Rafael Nadal, who has won the French Open title six times, and Maria Sharapova, who has yet to win a championship here, were the first players to advance to the semifinals Wednesday amid more rain showers at Roland Garros.
Nadal’s opponent, fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, couldn’t have played better tennis than he did over long stretches of the match, but it got him nowhere. Nadal, although not quite at his best, came through 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-3.
“I just tried to wait for my moment,” Nadal said of Almagro’s big effort. “It’s true he had a few chances, important ones. But my serve worked really well, and he had one mistake, one important mistake, with the forehand. My thoughts at that moment were, ‘I’m two sets up — wait for my moment and play aggressive.’ ”
The crowd tried to give Almagro every encouragement it could, but this is Nadal’s court, and trying hard isn’t enough.
David Ferrer will be trying hard and possibly meeting with the same kind of frustration when he plays Nadal in the semifinals after beating No. 4 seed Andy Murray 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 in a duel that lasted 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Ferrer is just a miniature Nadal, and Murray ruined any chance he had of breaking down the Spanish resistance by dropping serve no fewer than five times the game after he had broken himself. Obviously feeling the need to take the attack to Ferrer, the Scot made more than his usual number of mistakes — 59 — and they did not outweigh the 49 winners he struck in heavy conditions that were not conducive to that kind of aggression.
“I lost to a better clay-court player than me tonight,” Murray said. “He’s so solid and consistent, and I didn’t convert the chances I had. If you are not taking your chances, the pressure builds.”
The defeat ended a five-Slam streak in which Murray had not lost before the semifinals. He will be keen to start another streak at Wimbledon.
Sharapova, after a less-than-impressive performance against Klara Zakopalova in the previous round, was back at her best when she faced Estonian Kaia Kanepi on Court Philippe Chatrier and won with authority 6-2, 6-3.
“After that tough match against Zakopalova, I’m happy with the way I improved in this match,” she said. “I thought that was really important because she’s someone who always competes and plays well against the top players especially. There were a few things I wanted to improve from the other matches. I just thought I had played very defensively in the last match, and today I did want to be aggressive and step in and move forward and get the first good hit on the ball.”
That, she did. And hard as she fought, Kanepi was always on her back foot, trying to deal with the tall Russian’s power.
Sharapova’s victory only underlined the fact she has emerged as the most consistent player on the tour this year.
A finalist at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, Sharapova then went on to win Stuttgart and Rome on clay and is now in the French semifinals for the second straight year. Asked how it has come about, she replied, “The energy I have been playing with this year has been really helpful to me because I feel like I have really stepped up and been really positive.”
Maria, however, does not focus solely on a tennis court. She loves Paris and has been trying to study how to live the Parisian lifestyle. She is a self-admitted people watcher.
“It’s the best here,” she said. “So eclectic. Maybe Tokyo is up there, too. Paris is another level. I love the way that people go about their lives and the way they sit at cafes like a few centimeters from the cars going by. Is that really nice or not?
“They seem to enjoy it. Everyone sits close to each other. You’re listening or eavesdropping into their conversations. Yeah, very different, which I enjoy.”
Sharapova will be all business again in the semifinals Thursday, when she meets Petra Kvitova, to whom she lost in last year’s Wimbledon final.
Kvitova had to fight hard to overcome the big surprise in the women’s field, Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, eventually winning 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 after trailing 4-2 in the final set.
Vania King’s doubles partner (they won Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010), Shvedova always has struggled to make a big impact in singles, but she put that behind her by qualifying here and giving her No. 142 ranking a considerable boost by reaching the quarterfinals.
Fatigue got to her in the end, however.
“I was hoping for bigger rain so that I could go and rest, but it didn’t happen,” she said. “I was just super tired. It’s been a super-long tournament — like it’s my third week in a row (because of qualifying).”
Kvitova, meanwhile, got off to a slow start.
“I was very nervous from the beginning,” she said. “The first set, I did easy mistakes. I knew I had to change my game, and I have to be the aggressive one. The games were very close, but I’m happy I won the big points.”