Only defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova missed out as the cream rose to the top on ‘Frantic Friday’ at the French Open, with a procession of the game’s top players showing just why they are a class apart.
After rain decimated Thursday’s programme, blue skies returned to Paris and most of the top seeds played sunshine tennis to match as the tournament got back on schedule and readied itself for a mouth-watering second week.
With 11 of the top 12 men in action, Federer and Nadal effortlessly lived up to top billing with comprehensive victories that kept them on collision course for a June 6 final.
“I won last year, so I think I can do it again,” Federer reassured reporters in any doubt about his ability to retain the title after battering German qualifier Julian Reister for the loss of eight games on a sun-baked Suzanne Lenglen court.
The victory, his 700th on the men’s Tour, handed Federer a first grand slam meeting with close friend and Olympic gold doubles partner Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round.
Wawrinka, seemingly forever destined to operate in Federer’s shadow as Swiss number two, has a rare claycourt victory over his compatriot but is more aware than anyone of the influence he has played in his career.
“Because of him, I have a gold medal in my house, so I’m very happy for that,” Wawrinka said.
Nadal’s solitary Roland Garros defeat 12 months ago sinks further into the memory after each passing match with the Mallorcan booking his third-round berth with a clinical 6-2 6-2 6-3 dismantling of Argentine Horacio Zeballos on Chatrier court.
“Probably I am running like I did in 2005, 2006, no? I can win a lot of matches without running crazy all the time, so that’s a big improvement,” said the Spaniard.
Nadal, who faces Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round after the Aussie terrier recorded a typical five-set win, led a Spanish armada of victories with four of his countrymen claiming wins on the surface they thrive on so much but it was a day to forget for the host nation.
Only Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s four-set win over Dutchman Thiemo De Bakker prevented a wipe-out of French men after 19 had made the main draw.
Second-round defeats for Florent Serra and Nicolas Mahut on Friday meant only the eighth seed, whose win was to reach the last 16, made round three in what is the country’s worst showing since 1995.
“It is sad. I did bet on Richard (Gasquet). I thought he would go far. Gael (Monfils) did not make it. That’s it, that’s the way it is,” Tsonga told reporters.
British fourth seed Andy Murray showed his growing liking for the red dust in Paris, overcoming a 6-0 third-set meltdown to beat Marcos Baghdatis in four sets.
He now faces an enticing last-16 clash with Tomas Berdych after the Czech slayed giant-serving American John Isner for the loss of just five games.
Last year’s runner-up Robin Soderling, who lost his first set of this year’s campaign, and third seed Novak Djokovic also made smooth progress on a day when only Chilean 12th seed Fernando Gonzalez was a surprise loser.
Kuznetsova had already staved off match points in her second-round win over German Andrea Petkovic but against fellow Russian and 30th seed Maria Kirilenko her luck, and her Roland Garros reign, finally ran out in 6-3 2-6 6-4 defeat.
“You cannot play all the time great, you know,” Kuznetsova said after going down on the Bullring Court One.” It’s up ands downs. I’ll be back.
Serena and Venus Williams made hay while the sun shone in Paris. Serena, who beat her sister in the 2002 final, barely broke sweat in a 55-minute 6-1 6-1 rout of Germany’s Julia Goerges, and Venus showed her blooming penchant for clay when dismissing Slovakian 28th seed Dominika Cibulkova for the loss of seven games.
“Obviously grass suits my game,” Venus told reporters. “For me the clay is just about my mindset, remembering that I have to hit some extra balls.
“I think in the past I’ve played too aggressively, so just this season I’ve tried to play my game still, but to be patient.”
Another enticing match was added to Saturday’s programme when former world number ones Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova booked a third-round showdown and their first meeting since the 2008 Australian Open quarter-finals.
Henin, the four-time champion here, completed her rain-interrupted match against Czech Klara Zakopalova with the minimum of effort 6-3 6-3, and Sharapova continued to find her feet of clay in a an identical win over Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.
“She remains someone very, very strong. Because she has fighting spirit, it’s gonna be a question of attitude and just try to be aggressive,” said Henin who has already inflicted two heavy claycourt defeats on the Russian.
(Editing by Martyn Herman; To query or comment on this story firstname.lastname@example.org)