(Reuters) – Justine Henin received a standing ovation on Monday as she walked off Court Suzanne Lenglen but it would have had a hollow ring for the Belgian after her script for a joyous French Open return had just been torn to shreds.
Rafa Nadal stayed firmly on course for a fifth happy ending at Roland Garros though as the Spaniard matched world number one Roger Federer’s feat of reaching the quarter-finals without dropping a set.
With the line-ups for the last eight now complete and warm sunshine forecast to return to Paris by the end of the week the tournament is bubbling up nicely for a thrilling crescendo.
Shame then that Henin, one of the greatest exponents of claycourt tennis the world has seen, will be missing.
The four-times champion showed flashes of her old brilliance en route to the fourth round, her sublime backhand occasionally sparked and the old fire still burns inside.
But she never quite scaled the heights she reached when completing a rare hat-trick of titles here in 2007 and that was the case again on Monday when the 27-year-old lost 2-6 6-1 6-4 to Australia’s Samantha Stosur.
Stosur, a surprise semi-finalist last year, sabotaged an eagerly-anticipated quarter-final between Henin and Serena Williams but was well worth her victory as she, not Henin, moved through to face the American world number one.
“I just wanted so much that the adventure could keep going,” Henin told reporters after her 24-match winning streak at Roland Garros, albeit one interrupted her decision to “retire” for 20 months, told reporters.
“It’s always difficult to lose, especially in a place I love as much as Roland Garros without showing your best tennis.”
As grey clouds again blanketed the French capital Williams sped into the last eight with a 6-2 6-2 defeat of Israel’s Shahar Peer despite a shocking start in which she handed over the opening seven points on Court Phillipe Chatrier.
Watched by sister Venus, who swapped her see-through corset for a tracksuit as she sat in the stand possibly still reflecting on her fourth-round exit, Serena soon recovered and pressed the throttle for an easy victory.
“I seem to always be able to turn it up during this particular stage maybe, the fourth round, for some reason. Hopefully I turn it up again,” the 28-year-old said.
The same could not be said of Henin at a venue she knows as well as her own backyard.
Despite winning the first set in 32 minutes she had no answer when Stosur raised her game. The Australian wobbled when she surrendered an early break in the deciding set but a Henin double-fault helped her break again at 4-4 and the seventh seed held her nerve to seal victory with a smash.
“Today I handled the situation well, especially when I got the lead and lost it again,” Stosur told reporters. “I was fighting it but I managed to stay in control.”
Stosur was joined in the quarter-finals by unseeded Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova who knocked out Australia’s Jarmila Groth 6-4 6-3 to set up a clash with Serbia’s fourth seed Jelena Jankovic who saw off Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova 6-4 6-2.
It was a good day for Serbs with Novak Djokovic recovering from some tricky moments early on against American Robby Ginepri to reach the quarter-finals for the fourth time in six visits.
Djokovic, on course for a semi-final against Nadal, said the mid-morning start had not been to his liking but he looked as sharp as his distinctive jet black hair by the end of a 6-4 2-6 6-1 6-2 victory.
His next opponent will be Jurgen Melzer who beat Russian qualifier Teimuraz Gabashvili to become the first Austrian man to reach the French Open quarters since Thomas Muster.
May 31, 2009 will forever be etched into Nadal’s head as the day his four-year domination of the French Open was ended by Robin Soderling — a result that sent shockwaves through the world of tennis.
Fast forward 12 months and Nadal appears to be nearing the level that made him unbeatable on clay.
Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci tried his best to stop the Nadal charge on Monday and played some stunning tennis of his own but ultimately powerless to stop the Mallorcan registering his 200th Tour victory on his beloved clay.
“I played my best match in the tournament today,” said Nadal, who will face Nicolas Almagro on Wednesday after he won an all-Spanish clash against Fernando Verdasco.
“Of course, I’m very happy but I’ll start jumping when I win the tournament.”
(Editing by Miles Evans)