The Williams bandwagon rolled out of Roland Garros on Friday when sisters Venus and Serena were humbled in the third round by a pair of tenacious opponents who never lost belief.
A day after the French Open lost three top-10 seeds, including David Nalbandian and James Blake, 2002 champion Serena joined them at the exit queue as she roared and screamed her way to a 6-4 6-4 mauling by Katarina Srebotnik.
”I knew it was going to be a tough match but what can I say? She just played unbelievable today [Friday],” said Serena, who had gone into the match with a 3-0 career record against Srebotnik.
The fifth seed’s defeat also meant a new name would be engraved on the Suzanne Lenglen Cup next week as she was the sole former champion in the women’s draw.
Exactly nine hours later, Venus completed a miserable day for the Williams clan when the eighth seed was outslugged, outthought and outgunned 7-5 6-3 by Italy’s Flavia Pennetta.
In fading light, Pennetta slammed away a blistering forehand to seal a memorable win.
”When you go on court, you have to believe in yourself,” said Pennetta after reaching the fourth round for the first time at the sixth attempt.
Triple champion Rafael Nadal, playing for the fourth day running in the rain-hit tournament, can look forward to a rest day at last after he crushed Finn Jarkko Nieminen 6-1 6-3 6-1.
”The good thing is I survived these three matches without losing a set. Tomorrow [Saturday], I’ll be able to recharge the batteries, and then on Sunday I’ll be 100% fit,” said Nadal.
Nadal’s potential semifinal opponent, third seed Novak Djokovic, took a nasty tumble on court but emerged unscathed for a 7-5 6-4 6-2 win over American Wayne Odesnik. The defeats of Odesnik and the Williamses meant Robby Ginepri remained the sole American survivor in either singles draw.
Serena’s loss cleared the way for a final showdown between Maria Sharapova and 2007 finalist Ana Ivanovic, the top two seeds who withstood some fierce resistance before marching on.
An erratic Ivanovic overcame a slight wobble in the first set before downing Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 6-1 to reach the fourth round, while Sharapova huffed and puffed her way to a 6-2 3-6 6-2 second-round win over American Bethanie Mattek.
But no amount of on-court dramatics could save Serena.
On the eve of the championships, Serena had declared herself ”100% fit”, but on Friday it was Srebotnik who always looked in better shape.
At 5-4 down in the first set, Serena was her own worst enemy. She smashed an easy overhead straight into the net and followed it up by fluffing a volley.
She reacted by bending over in disbelief and resting her forehead against the end of her racket handle.
Forty five minutes later, Serena’s Paris sojourn was over.
”Today, I woke up and knew I had really nothing to lose so I just took my chances. I’m really happy that today it turned my way,” said Srebotnik, who made it through to the last 16 of a Slam for only the second time in 35 attempts.
While Ivanovic has so far managed to win all three of her matches in straight sets, the same cannot be said of Sharapova.
If the Russian wants to complete a career Grand Slam by lifting the title here, she will have to take a crash course in how to hit crisp winners following yet another scrappy display.
After being two points from defeat in her opening match against fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina, Sharapova dropped the second set against Mattek, who is more well known for her outlandish outfits than her tennis pedigree.
However, in a match left hanging in the balance overnight after fading light halted play, Sharapova regained her poise to set a third-round date with Italian 32nd seed Karin Knapp.
Defending her style of play, which produced a tally of 10 double faults and an astonishing 51 unforced errors, Sharapova said: ”I’m not a clay-court specialist … I’m going to stick to my guns and do what I do best.”
Britain’s Andy Murray was adamant that he had underlined his clay-court credentials despite succumbing 6-3 6-7 6-3 7-5 to Spain’s Nicolas Almagro.
”I proved I’m a good clay-court player. To win against me on clay, it is a very good result,” said the 10th seed, who had never won a match in the French capital before this week.
”I’m not someone that’s going to be taken lightly on this surface in the future, I don’t think.”
While Murray’s comments sounded rather bold given his record on red dirt, a trio of Frenchmen had plenty to shout about.
Paul-Henri Mathieu, seeded 18th, Michael Llodra and wildcard Jeremy Chardy, who had quelled Nalbandian in the previous round, rode a wave of passionate support to reach the last 16.
On Saturday, they could be joined by Gael Monfils, Florent Serra and Julien Benneteau to make it a record six French men in the last 16 since tennis turned professional in 1968.
Blake’s conqueror, Ernests Gulbis, enjoyed another good win, beating Ecuador’s Nicolas Lapentti for a place in the last 16. — Reuters