PARIS: Four-time champion Rafael Nadal clinched his 200th clay-court win on Monday to move into the French Open quarter-finals, but only after undergoing a tough examination by Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci.
Second seed Nadal claimed a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 win over gutsy 24th seed Bellucci and will face either Fernando Verdasco or Nicolas Almagro for a place in the semi-finals.
Nadal is bidding to become only the second man to win five or more French Open men’s titles, but he was distinctly under-cooked on Court Philippe Chatrier, dropping serve four times in a match featuring 12 service breaks.
Nadal, who turns 24 on Thursday, broke his 22-year-old opponent in the first game of the match before the Brazilian hit back to level at 2-2. But the Spaniard took immediate revenge, claiming a double break in the fifth and seventh games on his way to pocketing the first set. Twice in the second set, fellow left-hander Bellucci, beaten by the world number two in the first round in 2008, gallantly retrieved breaks, but remained unable to capitalise as Nadal stretched to a two-set lead. Bellucci dropped serve again in the opening game of the third set, only for Nadal to hand it straight back. The Spaniard recovered to lead 3-2 and took the match after 2hr 33min when Bellucci, whose high-risk strategy sparked 40 unforced errors, netted a service return.
Victory was particularly sweet as it was at the same last 16 stage in 2009 where Nadal was sent crashing to a first Roland Garros defeat by Robin Soderling.
Djoker faces Melzer
Novak Djokovic, scheduled to face Nadal in the last four, also reached the quarter-finals and is convinced that the confident way he swept past Robby Ginepri makes him a threat both to the Spaniard and champion Roger Federer. The third seeded Serbian saw off Ginepri 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, reeling off 12 of the last 15 games, and will now face Jurgen Melzer, who ended Russian qualifier Teimuraz Gabashvili’s run with a 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win.
Djokovic had won all of his four previous meetings with world number 98 Ginepri, who had reached this stage after putting out 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third round. Meanwhile, 22nd seed Melzer ended the run of world number 114 Gabashvili,
Stosur stuns Henin, Serena too much for Peer
Samantha Stosur of Australia stunned four-times former winner Justine Henin at the French Open on Monday to wreck hopes of a dream quarter-final between the Belgian and top seed Serena Williams. It was the first time that Henin had lost since the second round in 2004, a 24-match unbeaten run that was the third best on record and it put a spoke in the comeback trail she has been blazing since the start of the year. Henin had won 24 straight matches at Roland Garros, including three titles, since going down to Italy’s Tathiana Garbin in the 2004 second round when she was the defending champion.
In sharp contrast to the Henin-Stosur thriller, which the Australian won 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, Williams breezed past Shahar Peer of Israel 6-2, 6-2. The only trouble Williams had against Peer came right at the start when she dropped the first seven points of the match as she struggled to get to grips with the cold, blustery conditions. From there she coasted through, her serve and ground strokes far too heavy and penetrating for the Israeli. The win kept alive the American’s hopes of winning the French Open for just the second time, eight years after her first triumph, and also kept her on track for the fabled calender year Grand Slam having won the Australian Open title in January.
Jurgen Melzer admitted that former French Open champion Thomas Muster, as well as close friend Andy Roddick, helped inspire him to reach a first Grand Slam quarter-final. His win over Gabashvili made him the first Austrian to make the last eight since Muster in 1998. “I was not imitating his style, because I just have a different game. But, as an athlete, he was an idol.”
Serena on Stosur
Serena insisted she was not shocked by Henin’s dismissal. “She is no pushover,” she said of Stosur. “She has beaten me before and I shall have to play my best game. You can never underestimate anyone and Sam is a wonderful clay-court player,” said the world number one. “She has a good chance to go all the way. She is fast, she is strong and she has a great serve.”
Novak Djokovic reached the French Open quarter-finals on convinced that the way he swept past Robby Ginepri makes him a potent threat to favourites Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. “With the kind of game I performed in the third and fourth sets, I think I have a good chance against anybody,” insisted 23-year-old Djokovic, a semi-finalist in 2007 and 2008.
GIVE ME A BREAK
Henin’s rues loss
“It’s not easy to play so many days in a row,” said the Belgian. “Maybe a day off would have been welcome. I wanted the adventure to continue but I wasn’t at my best today and she took her chances.” Henin said that she had felt more nervous and uncomfortable on court than usual having played for five straight days because of a succession of rain delays.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 1st, 2010.