The lower half of the men’s draw gave the French plenty of nationalism and a stunning upset in Round Four. The bookmaker’s second choice, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, made his usual quiet Grand Slam exit and French rock stars Gael Monfil’s (11) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (9) won convincingly before impassioned, full house galleries.
Monfils was particularly impressive as he exhibited his tremendous athletic skills in surging past 24th seeded Jurgen Melzer in four sets (6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1). Monfils displayed stunning court coverage and pulled off an array of highlight shots in advancing to the quarterfinals, where he will take on American Andy Roddick.
Country-mate Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was no less impressive, recording a straight set (6-2, 6-2, 6-2) win over Belgian upstart Christophe Rochus. Tsonga’s win sets up a quarter-final battle of heavyweights with the hard-hitting 5th seed, Juan-Marin Del Porto, who cruised past Igor Andreev (6-4, 7-5, 6-4).
Tsonga had his own power game on display Saturday and looks comfortable on the familiar terre battue of Roland Garros. The 6’ 6” Del Porto will have to be at his best against Tsonga and his legions of fans.
In the day’s most surprising twist, Novak Djokovic succumbed to the Grand Slam pressure once again. In a lackluster effort, the heavily favored Serb lost in straight sets (6-4, 6-4, 6-4) to 29th seed German Phillip Kohlschreiber. Djokovic played catch-up all day. Kohlschreiber has had success against top ten competition in the past but the Serb has been playi9ng well and extremely well on clay.
The loss marks a string of Grand Slam disappointments for the 2008 Australian Open Champion, whop previously this year lost his number three ranking to Andy Murray. Djokovic’s willingness to compete over the two week Grand Slam schedule has been questioned by experts and commentators. On Saturday, his game and heart were elsewhere.
Since starting the year slowly, Djokovic has amassed an impressive 37-11 singles record and has earned more than $1.7 million. After his game effort at Madrid last week, he seemed primed to perform, well in Paris. Disenchanted fans feel Djokovic’s fragile personality on court is a problem in big events.
If the Serb does not start well, he does not finish well. On Saturday, Kohlschreiber served notice that he was in the match early and for the duration. He challenged every point and returned serve with a vengeance. The battling German let Novak know he was there to win and the 4th seed had no answers.
While the French had a good day, they had their disappointments. Local players Paul-Henri Matthieu took Roger Federer four sets but fell 4-6, 6-1, 60-4, 6-4 and Jeremy Chardy battled German Tommy Haas all the way in a stirring 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 loss as Marc Gicquel lost in straight sets to Andy Roddick.
Federer will now take on the last of the one-handed backhanders, Haas in the quarters. Kohlschreiber will meet 16 seed Tommy Robredo of Spain in another quarter pairing.
In one of the most stirring Sunday matches, 8th seed Fernando Verdasco will take on 10th seed Nikolay Davydenko in what should be a battle of hard-hitting clay court experts.
In the women’s draw, third seeded Venus Williams is gone as is fourth seeded Elena Dementieva. The draw has opened up nicely for former number one Maria Sharapova who must face China’s Na Li in the fourth round on Sunday. The winner will face 20th seeded Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, who overcame Agnes Szavay early Sunday morning (6-2, 6-4).
The match of the day pits defending French Open Champion Ana Ivanovic against Bulgaria’s rising superstar Victoria Azarenka. Ivanovic is still struggling with her ball toss, but has improved with every round. Azarenka overcame feisty Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in a great clay court battle of groundstrokes and strategy 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. Azaraneka served notice that she is composed, aggressive and ready to move into the elite corps of women’s tennis players.
The Ivanovic-Azarenka winner will take on top seed Dinara Safina, who has only lost 5 games in reaching the quarters. In the past, Safina has struggled with the big venues but seems poised to charge to a Grand Slam title.
In the lower draw, Jelena Jankovc and Serena Williams seem headed for a semi-final collision. Williams needed three sets to oust Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez and will face Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniack in the quarters.
Jankovic has been as impressive as Safina as she has charged through the field. Her 6-1, 6-1 fourth round triumph over Jamila Groth was particularly crisp.
Of the men’s survivors, only Roddick, Federer and Nadal have won Grand Slam events. Of the women’s survivors, only Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic hade claimed major championships.
Roland Garros is ready for a big day on Sunday. Join the fun!