It was a disappointing morning for the French as Alize Cornet missed out on a chance of upsetting world No3 Victoria Azarenka, and Benoit Paire was dumped out of Roland Garros at the hands of Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
Cornet, the No31 seed from Nice, had never advanced past the third round in Paris, but for a set and a half, looked like she might make the last 16 for the first time of her career.
With Azarenka’s timing on her serve clearly off, Cornet took a hard-fought first set in 54 minutes, breaking the No3 seed four times. Azarenka struck back in the second set and despite getting broken in the first game of the third, the Belarusian broke back immediately and opened up a 5-1 lead.
Serving for the match, Azarenka had to save three break points and finally sealed the victory 4-6, 6-3 6-1 when a poorly-executed drop shot from Cornet landed in the net.
“I couldn’t sustain my level of game that I produced in the first set and a half. And she really picked up her rhythm after the middle of the second. I let her just muscle in, really,” said Cornet after the match.
“She's a machine, a juggernaut, Azarenka. She plays the same from the first to the last point.”
Having produced some strong performances against top players, Cornet may seem ready to launch an assault on the top-10 but the Frenchwoman says there is still something missing.
“I need to find the key to open that door and unlock that potential,” said Cornet, who won the title in Strasbourg last week. “And I felt close in my level of game, close to beating those players in the top-10.
“But I like things to keep moving fast. So I get impatient.”
Meanwhile Azarenka says she was glad she managed to get the win without being on top of her serving game.
“I really felt that I left my serve at home,” said the reigning Australian Open champion. “But if I can win serving like this, that's pretty remarkable, I have to say.”
Over on Suzanne Lenglen, Nishikori etched his name in the history books when he became the first Japanese man to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since Fumiteru Nakano in 1938.
The No13 seed secured his last 16 spot with a 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-1 over home favourite Benoit Paire, who hit nine more winners than his opponent but was clearly hurt by the 64 unforced errors he committed, that included nine double faults.
The second set saw lots of drama as Paire, the No24 seed, first received a code violation for racquet abuse and then got a point penalty – on set point – for a coaching violation.
“I think mentally it was difficult for me, because I had a lot of pressure in this match,” said a dejected Paire, who was in tears on court after the match. “I wanted to win.
“I think that the chair umpire wanted to (get) a promotion. Because at 5-4 advantage for me on set points to get a warning for coaching, it's unbelievable.
“I think if Nadal or other top players do the same thing, for sure he doesn't give a warning.
“But I don't know why today he gaveit. It's the first time I've been given a warning for coaching."
Paire said his coach gestured with his hands to push and that it shouldn’t warrant a violation.
He said: “For sure it's not fair because you can see every coach do the same thing.”
Elsehwere, Maria Sharapova survived a second set assault from China's Jie Zheng to advance 6-1, 7-5 to the fourth round where she faces Sloane Stephens, while 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone delivered a 6-2, 6-1 drubbing of Marion Bartoli to book a last 16 meeting with Azarenka.
Ernests Gulbis created quite the buzz on Thursday in Paris and it wasn’t because of his entertaining match against Gael Monfils, but because of an interview that was printed in L’Equipe with some intriguing quotes from the talented Latvian.
Never one to hold back in interviews, Gulbis told the French daily that while he respected the top-four very much, he thinks Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all boring.
Gulbis says the ATP is sorely lacking in character and that press conferences should be more exciting citing the trash talk between boxers as an example.
I bumped into French-Iranian legend Mansour Bahrami outside Philippe Chatrier Stadium and got his thoughts on the subject.
Bahrami is famous for his incredibly entertaining tennis and if you have never had the privilege of catching one or two of his trick shots, then I suggest you get on YouTube immediately and check him out. The man certainly knows how to deliver a show on a tennis court.
The 57-year-old, who became a household name on the seniors tour after he retired, tells me he “absolutely agrees” with Gulbis and says the sport has become too professional.
“Yes absolutely I agree,” says Bahrami. “One of the reasons is because there is so much money in the game and it’s becoming too professional. 30 or 20 years ago you had players like John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, Yannick Noah…
“When I played, I didn’t play to become rich, to win money; because there was no money.
“So I just played tennis because I loved the game. But today if you are 12, 13 years old and you are talented, you are surrounded by professionals, everybody wants to get something.”
While I agree that in terms of character, tennis is nowhere near how it used to be in the era of McEnroe and co, it’s hard to see one of the top players achieving what they’ve been achieving while goofing around.
Of the top-four, Djokovic seems to be the one with the most obvious sense of humour, but while some think it’s all an act and others find it genuine, Djokovic does not go crazy or crack a joke while he is playing a serious match.
He can leave that to the likes of Gael Monfils and Ernests Gulbis, who were smiling and joking during their four-set clash yesterday, with Monfils even taking videos of the crowd with his phone while his opponent was off on a toilet break.
But that could be one of the reasons why Monfils and Gulbis are Slam-less and Federer and Co are not. The top-four are indeed extremely professional and have a level of focus that is unmatched on tour.
But the question remains, is this the kind of tennis that will attract the masses, or just the pure fans of the sport, who can still revel in the beauty of a one-handed backhand, or a perfectly-timed drop shot?
Former world No3 Nikolay Davydenko believes the so-called next generation of men’s tennis have yet to show their mettle and should not be considered the future stars of the sport.
The 31-year-old, who advanced to the third round at Roland Garros with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 win over Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin on Friday, was asked what he thought of the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Benoit Paire and Kei Nishikori and whether they can be considered the future of the men’s tour.
The Russian said: “Future of tennis? Why? What have these guys done that is unbelievable to be (considered) the future of tennis? Not so much.
“They play a good game and have a good level but not something amazing to surprise everyone.
“I played Dimitrov in Rotterdam. Yes, he played good. He has a good serve. He tried to play some baseline and running.
“But something like 'wow', I can’t say that. If he improves his game – he’s young. It’s possible for him to be top-10 or maybe top-five. But I don’t see any surprises now for No1. Maybe if all top-10 guys take a rest, then it can be. But not yet.”
Davydenko, who next faces Frenchman Richard Gasquet in a rematch of the Doha final the Russian lost earlier this year, also commented on Ernests Gulbis’ remarks regarding how “boring” the top-four are with the press.
Gulbis, renowned for speaking his mind and making controversial comments, caused a stir with his statements but Davydenko says the top players are understandably boring.
“Gulbis can say many things,” Davydenko said laughing. “I’m also starting to be boring. I say boring things because the question is about the match. My answer is about my forehand, my backhand… it’s every day the same.
"For sure it’s going to be boring. Your questions are the same every day, every year and the answers will be the same.
“Normally for the top-five, you need to be perfect, you need to be boring.”