Sweet birthday for champ Nadal; Djokovic shines

Tennis French Open: Azarenka, Haas storm into quarters

Sweet birthday for champ Nadal;  Djokovic shines

All the complaints about lousy weather, windy courts and rotten schedules were forgotten as the sun finally shone on birthday boy Rafael Nadal’s pursuit of a record eighth French Open title on Monday.

Nadal spent the first week labelling Paris “too cold”, the Philippe Chatrier Court “too windy” and the playing schedule “a joke” after three wobbly performances but he was all smiles as the mercury finally crept over the 20 degrees Celsius mark for the first time in this year’s event.

The Spaniard, bidding to become the first player to win the same major eight times, took a step closer to a possible semifinal blockbuster against Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 last-16 win over Japan’s Kei Nishikori.

After the fans serenaded Nadal by singing ‘Happy Birthday’, the 27-year-old smiled sheepishly as organisers wheeled out a giant four-tier cake decorated with racquets, golden tennis balls and an array of sparklers.

Djokovic was in sparkling form during the final three sets of his clash with Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Kohlschreiber earned the distinction of becoming the first player to win a set off Djokovic at the tournament but that was as good as it got for the German.

Djokovic, who left Roland Garros in tears two days ago after learning about the death of his first coach Jelena Gencic, kept his emotions in check for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win.

There were no trophies on offer for reaching the second Monday of the French Open but if there were, Victoria Azarenka would have been declared the ‘best wailer’, Tommy Haas the ‘best golden oldie’ and Mikhail Youzhny the ‘best racquet basher’.

Australian Open champion Azarenka’s clash with 2010 Roland Garros winner Francesca Schiavone had been billed as the pick of the fourth-round showdowns but it failed to draw in the crowds.

The discerning Parisian fans chose to turn a deaf year to the ear-splitting sounds emitted out of Philippe Chatrier Court first thing in the morning as third seed Azarenka completed a 6-3, 6-0 win to set up a last-eight date with Russian Maria Kirilenko.

The Belarussian’s sound effects have been compared to those made by jet liners or even women giving birth and with Schiavone also chipping in with her kung-fu style yelps, it was definitely not a contest for the purists.

It was only when a victorious Azarenka twirled around to blow kisses to the four corners of the court that fans started flooding in -- in anticipation of Djokovic's meeting with Kohlschreiber.

A short hop away on Suzanne Lenglen Court, another German, Tommy Haas, proved that there was plenty of life left in his 35-year-old limbs as he raced past a tormented Youzhny 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 to become the oldest Roland Garros quarterfinalist since Istvan Gulyas in 1971.

Haas tops a list of 30-somethings to reach the last eight after he joined a trio of 31-year-olds -- Roger Federer and Spanish warriors Tommy Robredo and David Ferrer -- with his 84-minute demolition of Youzhny.

While it is the first time in 44 years that four men on the wrong side of 30 have made it so far at Roland Garros, the quartet have still some way to go if they are to match the feat of Australia’s Ken Rosewall, who won the last of his eight Grand Slam singles title aged 37.

Haas set up a quarterfinal against Djokovic, who is no stranger to racquet bashing himself after smashing a gaping hole into the courtside bench during his final defeat by Nadal 12 months ago.

 Maria Sharapova showed American Sloane Stephens how far she has to go to become a Grand Slam contender, scoring a 6-4, 6-3 victory to reach the quarterfinals.

Local favourite Richard Gasquet was the gallant loser yet again as he bowed out 6-7 (5-7), 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6 to Swiss ninth seed Stanislas Wawrinka in an epic fourth-round match on Monday.

Meanwhile in Sunday’s late fourth-round match, fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska defeated 2008 champion Ana Ivamnic 6-2, 6-4.
Paes-Jankovic win

Leander Paes kept the Indian challenge alive in the French Open mixed doubles by moving into the second round along with Jelena Jankovic.

The unseeded Indo-Serbian pair registered a 7-5, 6-3 win over Galina Voskoboeva and Daniele Bracciali in one hour and 16 minutes.

Fourth round results (prefix denotes seeding): Men’s singles: 9-Stanislas Wawrinka (Sui) bt 7-Richard Gasquet (Fra) 6-7 (5-7), 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6; 3-Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt 13-Kei Nishikori (Jpn) 6-4, 6-1, 6-3; 1-Novak Djokovic (Srb) bt 16-Philipp Kohlsch-reiber (Ger) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; 12-Tommy Haas (Ger) bt 29-Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. Women’s singles: 2-Maria Sharapova (Rus) bt 17-Sloane Stephens (US) 6-4, 6-3; 12-Maria Kirilenko (Rus) bt Bethanie Mattek-Sands (US) 7-5, 6-4; 3-Victoria Azarenka (Blr) bt Francesca Schiavone (Ita) 6-3, 6-0.

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