No sweat for top seeds at French Open

Top seeds Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova both moved smoothly into the last 16 at the French Open on Saturday.

Federer outplayed close friend Mario Ancic of Croatia, winning 6-3, 6-4 6-2 in cool, rainy, evening conditions on the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court.

Earlier in the day, Sharapova needed a set to get going, but she finally found her form to defeat Italy’s Karin Knapp 7-6 (7/4), 6-0.

In men’s third-round action, the main upset came when back-to-form Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia battled from two sets down to oust fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

It was, he said, his “biggest victory ever, especially coming back from two sets down to beat Nikolay” and came after “a very dark period for me the last 12 months” when he was mentally worn out.

“I’ve been feeling well since the first tournament on clay and it was just a matter of time,” he said. “I was feeling that something positive was going to happen.”

The 26-year-old Federer, who is looking to win the only Grand Slam title that has eluded him, broke Ancic in the fourth game of the first set to set the tone for what turned out to be a one-sided contest.

Ancic, who is climbing back up the world rankings after missing most of last season through illness and injuries, simply had no answer to the Swiss star’s command of the exchanges, either from the baseline or at the net.

“I struggled a little bit early on but once I got the break I started to play better and more freely,” said Federer.

“I am happy with my performance—not losing much energy in the first week is always a good sign.”

Federer went through for a fourth-round match-up against Frenchman Julian Benneteau, who beat Robin Soderling of Sweden 1-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-0, 6-1.

The French flag was flying also former world junior champion Gael Monfils, whose superior fitness helped him see off Jurgen Melzer of Austria 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2.

Fifth seed David Ferrer of Spain also slugged it out over five sets with Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt before winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, but Davydenko became the highest seed to fall in the tournament with his loss to Ljubicic.

Ferrer will next take on the much-improved Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, whose unpredictable game was too much for Spanish claycourter Tommy Robredo, winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-1

Robby Ginepri became the first American player to reach the fourth round since Andre Agassi in 2003 with an impressive 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 trouncing of Florent Serra of France.

He moved through to take on Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, who also fought back from two sets down to beat ninth seed Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

‘That’s the way things go’

In the first set against Knapp, the 21-year-old Sharapova again found it hard to shake off the poor form that has seen her struggle to live up to her top seeding.

She had problems with her serve and consistency as Knapp came within two points of taking a one-set lead.

But in the second, after breaking serve in a marathon second game, Sharapova visibly relaxed, allowing her to deploy her impressive arsenal of ground strokes.

Sharapova needed three sets to win in each of her two previous rounds ,and in all three matches completed so far she has had to play for over two hours.

She knows though that she will have to add more consistency to her game before going up against compatriot Dinara Safina with a quarterfinal place at stake. The pair have met five times with Sharapova winning three.

“I kind of forgot what it felt like to finish in two, even though I still managed to play for two hours out there,” she said.

“It was quite scratchy the first two [games] and I spent a lot more time than I would have liked on the court.
But that’s just the way things go.”

Safina made it through to the fourth round in Paris for the third straight year with a 6-2, 7-5 win over China’s last representative, Zheng Jie.

Following the two of them into the last 16 was 2006 runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova, who comfortably saw off another Russian, Nadia Petrova 6-2, 6-1.

The fourth seed said that she had come into Paris in poor form but that just playing in a Grand Slam event had given her the boost she needed and she felt that she has the chance to go all the way this year.

“Definitely I think I have a chance,” she said. “I think there are a few players who have a really good shot to win it and I hope one of them is me.”

She next takes on rising star Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a player she has beaten on two previous occasions. The 18-year-old former world junior champion crushed Italian veteran Francesa Schiavone 6-1, 6-1 and she has lost only two games in her last two matches.

Also into the last 16 was the third seed Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, who defeated Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 7-5, 6-3 in a game held over from late on Friday with Jankovic a set and 4-2 ahead.—AFP

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