Published June 01, 2012
A flat-footed Ana Ivanovic and an out-of-sorts Polish third seed Agnieszka Radwanska bade an early farewell to a cool and blustery Roland Garros on Friday.
Roger Federer and Nicolas Mahut, however, were soon turning up the heat as they thrilled the purists with a delightful exhibition of shot-making before the Swiss tactician brokered a 6-3 4-6 6-2 7-5 win to book his place in the last 16.
Novak Djokovic also got the crowd going, but in his case it was by joining them for a Mexican wave mid-match, before he exposed the gulf of talent with 286th-ranked French qualifier Nicolas Devilder during a 6-1 6-2 6-2 thrashing.
For a woman who showed no weaknesses while dispatching Venus Williams in the previous round, Radwanska unusually suffers stage fright when she comes face-to-face with 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
So it proved again on Friday as the world number three froze on the biggest stage in claycourt tennis, winning a measly three games during a 6-1 6-2 humbling by the Russian 26th seed on Philippe Chatrier Court.
Kuznetsova skipped off court - perhaps to experiment with another eye-catching hairdo after showing off cropped, tight braids - after notching up a sixth successive win over Radwanska and securing a last-16 date with Sara Errani.
The defeat dashed Radwanska's hopes of finishing the tournament as world number one as she had been in a three-way race for the top spot with Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova. Azarenka stayed on track by downing Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak 6-4 6-4.
Italy's Errani may not yet be a household name but she is likely to provide a stiffer test to Russian Kuznetsova as she has already won three claycourt titles this season.
On Friday, Errani roared back from a first-set meltdown to beat Ivanovic 1-6 7-5 6-3 and reach the fourth round in Paris for the first time.
After assured performances in her last two outings, Ivanovic had high hopes of progressing beyond the fourth round of a major for the first time since her triumph here in 2008.
It was not meant to be for the bubbly 24-year-old Serbian.
"I was making some unforced errors when I was too flat-footed," said the 13th seed. "Some double faults really came out of nowhere. Maybe I wasn't using my legs enough.
"It's really disappointing because I felt like I had a game and I was playing really well. My serve really let me down."
It is a sentiment probably shared by Japan's Ayumi Morita, who simply could not fire up her serving arm and fell by the wayside 6-1 6-1 in a second-round thrashing by title favorite Sharapova.
The Russian second seed had been scheduled to face Morita on Thursday but failed to get on to Centre Court after Paul-Henri Mathieu took almost six hours to beat John Isner.
On Friday, with the weather having turned so fresh that the usual queues around the ice-cream stands had disappeared, Sharapova refused to hang around longer than necessary.
"It was a pretty long day yesterday. I feel like I warmed up like 20 times for this match," said Sharapova.
"It was one of those days where you just want to get on the court and then, you're (hanging around) all day, sitting, waiting around, eating, sleeping. It's like a good way to put someone into retirement.
"It was nice to get out there today and finish it."
The Japanese player did well to keep Sharapova on court for an hour but her postcard home from Paris is unlikely to contain too many happy memories as she managed to hold serve just twice.
Sharapova, on the other hand, will have plenty more happy snapshots to post on her Facebook account, which already has seven million fans and counting.
"Facebook is more like a travel journal for me. I take a lot more pictures now than I used to, because I feel like I want to share it...with my fans."
Federer had plenty of fans, a club which includes Mahut's wife, drooling from the stands as he sprinkled his magic all over Centre Court to win the opening set for the loss of only three points on serve.
Just when it seemed an awe-struck Mahut was heading for his fourth successive straight-sets loss to Federer, he rattled the Swiss by snatching the second set.
If that raised Mahut's hopes of causing an upset, those dreams were dashed by the no-nonsense Federer who set up a last-16 meeting with baby-faced David Goffin.
The Belgian, who made it into the draw despite falling in the qualifiers, is turning out to be the luckiest loser in town.
He beat Pole Lukasz Kubot 7-6 7-5 6-1 to become the first lucky loser to reach the French Open fourth round since records started being kept in 1988.
World number five Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych (seven) and Juan Martin Del Potro (nine) also advanced to keep up the serene run by the top men's seeds.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)