Nadal, Federer stay on course at French Open

Triple champion Rafael Nadal and the man whose ambitions he has thwarted each time in winning those titles, Roger Federer, both made smooth progress into the third round at the French Open on Thursday.

Second seed Nadal brushed aside French qualifier Nicolas Devilder 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 to take his Roland Garros record to 23 wins in 23 matches as he continued his campaign to emulate Bjorn Borg as the only man to win four titles in a row.

The Spaniard’s reward is a match-up with Finnish 26th seed Jarkko Nieminen for a place in the last 16.

Federer needed a set to get going but after a rain delay he confidently blasted his way past Spanish claycourter Albert Montanes with a 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 win.

He next takes on Croatia’s Mario Ancic, the last man to beat him at Wimbledon in 2002. Ancic won a four-setter against Spanish qualifier David Marrero.

Meanwhile, one of the men seen as being a main obstacle in the way of a third straight Nadal v Federer final, sixth-seeded David Nalbandian of Argentina, let slip a two sets to love lead to lose 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 to French wildcard Jeremy Chardy.

James Blake of the United States, the seventh seed, also went out, losing 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Latvian teenager Ernests Gulbis.

Top seed Federer looked out of sorts in a first set made difficult for both players by cool conditions and steadily increasing rain.

He saved two sets points at 4-5 down on his own serve before players, fans and officials alike were sent scurrying for cover as the rain intensified.

Ninety minutes later it was 27-year-old Montanes who was faster out of the blocks, lifting the tie-breaker 7/5 with Federer’s usually devastating forehand looking wobbly due to the heavy balls.

But with the sun starting to pierce the cloud cover, Federer promptly moved up a gear, winning 12 of the next 13 games and there was no way back for the Spaniard.

Federer is looking to win the only Grand Slam singles title that so far has eluded him in this his 10th Roland Garros campaign, having lost to Nadal for the last three years, including the last two finals.

His form though coming into Paris has been disappointing with just one title to his name this year on clay at Estoril last month and seven defeats. He lost to Nadal in the finals at Monte Carlo and Hamburg.

“The conditions were difficult in that first set with all the rain and he played well.
But once I got ahead in the second and third sets I felt more and more comfortable,” Federer said.

On taking on Ancic he said: “Tough opponent—he has a good name and it should be exciting. He’s been playing OK and is on the comeback trail. He is a good friend of mine on the tour.”

Nadal clinched 13 of the last 14 games of the match against Devilder, the world 148, in an embarrassingly one-sided encounter.

The 21-year-old wrapped up victory on his second match point when his opponent netted a forehand return.

In the women’s tournament, third seed Jelena Jankovic reached the third round, but saw her hopes of lifting a first Grand Slam hit by a painful injury to her right forearm and elbow.

The 23-year-old Serb defeated Croatia-born New Zealander Marina Erakovic 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), but she needed extensive treatment to relieve the pain halfway through the second set.

“The pain started at the beginning of the second set and it was getting worse and worse,” Jankovic said of her injury.

“The balls were heavier and from hitting a lot of them my arm got very tight. I started having pain and it is swollen. The trainer came on and helped me get to the end.”

There were no such problems for Venus Williams, who powered past Tunisian qualifier Selima Sfar 6-2, 6-4 to join sister Serena in the third round. They could potentially meet in the semifinals.

Top seed Maria Sharapova, who struggled through a dramatic first round tie against Russian teenager Evgeniya Rodina, failed to finish her late-starting second round tie against America’s Bethanie Mattek before the light faded.

The world number one, looking to complete her career Grand Slam title sweep in Paris, led 6-2, 2-3 when play was called off for the day.

Another Russian, sixth-seed Anna Chakvetadze, lost 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, while perennial French casualty in Paris Amelie Mauresmo had another Roland Garros nightmare in losing 6-3, 6-4 to Spanish qualifier Carla Suarez.

It was her worst performance since losing in the first round in 2001 and left more question marks over her career.—AFP

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