Nadal starting to look like himself
Rafael Nadal, still searching for the form that brought him five titles at Roland Garros, on Monday looked like the champion we know him to be as he survived a fair test from Ivan Ljubicic to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory.
But the examination will only get bigger because Robin Soderling, who beat the Spaniard here two years ago in one of the greatest upsets of recent years, will be awaiting him. Soderling demolished Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 and will not fear Nadal in this form.
Ljubicic felt that, with four matches under his belt, Nadal “was back in business.” Nadal was somewhat more cautious.
“It was a positive result for sure,” he said. “But I have to play a little more inside the court. I have to hit the ball with more conviction, in my opinion.”
Over on the Court Suzanne Lenglen, where most of the action seems to be taking place this year, Gael Monfils resumed his interrupted duel with David Ferrer and emerged victorious at the end of what turned into the best match of the tournament so far. The Frenchman came through 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 1-6, 8-6.
Monfils said it was one of the best matches of his career and no one who witnessed it would argue. It stopped at the very beginning of the fourth set Sunday night when Monfils rolled his ankle. He was leading two sets to one but was still so worried about the potential injury that he was having treatment on it at 1 a.m. and did not get to sleep for another two hours.
On an increasingly warm Monday afternoon, he was looking like a man deprived of sleep. Ferrer was quicker and sharper and ran through the fourth set 6-1. The only good thing Monfils did was to make sure he held serve at 0-5 so he would serve first in the fifth.
The final set saw a different Monfils. He was back in a rhythm, hitting through his flowing forehand and finding some first serves. He broke for a 4-2 lead as Ferrer came up with a couple of uncharacteristic errors and seemed to have the match won when he reached 40-15 while serving for the match at 5-3. But nerves can foul up many things.
If you push these Babolat balls with a stiff arm they don’t go anywhere. And two tight swings off the forehand and backhand saw the ball plop into the net. A brilliant backhand up the line from Ferrer compounded the problem and stunned the crowd of 10,000 into silence.
Monfils had another chance on the Spaniard’s serve at 5-6, but again Ferrer was too solid in one of those long rallies so Monfils had to hold once again. The forehand was looking very smooth and dangerous by now, and Ferrer scored with a couple of beauties to win his service game.
Then, suddenly, Ferrer tightened and went down 0-40. Presented with three more match points, Monfils needed only one and instantly swung around to gesture toward his father, jumping for joy. It had been a fantastic battle between the seventh- and ninth-ranked players in the world — high quality clay-court tennis that had the savvy crowd riveted from start to finish.
Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, who beat Colombia’s Alejandro Falla, will have to wait a while to find out his quarterfinals opponent, as Andy Murray could not finish his match against Victor Troicki of Serbia. Murray, who had twisted his ankle against Michael Berrer two days before, started tentatively and soon found himself being outplayed. He was down 6-4, 6-4 before he found any rhythm, but there was no chance the Scot was going to throw in the towel. Going for his shots, Murray fought back to take the third 6-3 and broke twice in the fourth to take it 6-2. It will be a one-set contest when they resume Tuesday.
Victoria Azarenka, at No. 4, is now the top seed left in the women’s draw, and she played as if she intends to make the most of the situation by sweeping past Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-2, 6-3. Azarenka will now play Li Na, the No. 6 seed, who fought back bravely after being outhit by the powerful Petra Kvitova in the first set and again at the start of the third. The Chinese player was, in fact, down 3-0 in the third and didn’t know how she came back.
“I didn’t believe I could come back,” she admitted. “She has huge, big serve. So I don’t know what happened. Maybe my husband left and I win six games in a row.”
No one is quite sure about Li Na's relationship with her husband, who has been serving as her coach but seems to have received a demotion in tennis terms since the Australian Open.
“After Melbourne I didn’t do well, so we need a break," she said. "That’s why I ask for Michael (Mortensen). He’s from Denmark. I ask him to help me, and now husband is hitting partner.”
Mortensen can throw a little light on the situation. “He just gets the signal to leave and he picks up his bag and goes,” Mortensen told me. “Like he’s almost expecting it.”
Late in the evening Maria Sharapova dug herself out of a tough situation in the second set when she was a break down against Agnieszka Radwanska before pulling out the stops with her powerful ground strokes to beat the Pole 7-5, 7-5. Sharapova, brimming with confidence after her title-winning performance in Rome, hit 47 winners.
Sharapova will now play rapidly improving German Andrea Petkovic, who shrugged off losing the second set against Russia’s Maria Kirilenko to win 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.