And on the eighth day, Albert Costa, the defending men's singles champion at the French Open, finally set foot on the hallowed clay of the Centre Court. He will not have to wait so long for a second visit. Tomorrow he is due to play Tommy Robredo, a Spanish compatriot, in the quarter-finals.
Robredo, 21, the youngest player left in the draw, is the man who eliminated Lleyton Hewitt, the Wimbledon champion and world No 1, in five sets in the third round on Saturday. Asked how far he thought Robredo would progress, Hewitt said: "Probably the next round he'll go." Competitors do not always make the best predictions. Yesterday Robredo defeated Gustavo Kuerten, of Brazil, three-times a champion at Roland Garros, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-4.
Serving with pace and consistency and pin-pointing his ground-strokes, the 28th-seeded Robredo deserved his success. "I've got the ace, [Hewitt], the king [Kuerten], and now I have to get the queen, [Costa]," he said, obviously mixing his metaphor in the case of the latter, the father of twins.
Unlike Wimbledon, the French Open does not have the tradition of opening the tournament with the men's title holder on Centre Court. "I don't care if they put me on the Bois de Boulogne," Costa said after opening his campaign on Court No 1, the third show court.
The Spanish ninth seed had recovered from two sets to love down against Sergio Roitman, an Argentinian Lucky Loser, thereby avoiding the ignominy of becoming the first defending champion ever to lose in the first round here.
Overlooked again in the second and third rounds, the 27-year-old Costa required five sets to overcome the Czech Radek Stepanek, then fought back from two sets to love down a second time to edge past Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador. Yesterday Costa had the last laugh - on the order of play committee, not his opponent - by eliminating the last Frenchman, Arnaud Clement, 6-2, 7-5, 7-5.
"Anybody who speaks Spanish is a good win out there," Andre Agassi said after reaching the quarter-finals on Sunday. The second seed may have his hands full when he plays the Argentinian Guillermo Coria, who defeated his compatriot Mariano Zabaleta, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3. Coria won the Hamburg Masters en route to Roland Garros.
Juan Carlos Ferrero, the Spanish third seed, out-classed his compatriot Felix Mantilla, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2, and now plays Fernando Gonzalez, of Chile, who flew past Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.
The French do have a heroine to cheer: Amelie Mauresmo is due to play Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the women's singles today.
It was suggested to Williams that the only person who could beat her was herself; and that was before her older sister, Venus, her opponent in the past four Grand Slam finals, disappeared in the dust on Sunday.
"I think that's definitely a hundred per cent accurate," Serena replied. "All the matches I've lost I've pretty much beaten myself. It's been that way for a couple years now. It's not like [I've lost after] I went out and did everything I could and played great and was just amazing. Whenever I lose, it's not because the girl I lost to just played an outstanding match. It's normally because I'm making 80 errors, just not doing the things I need to do."
Williams has lost only two of her 36 matches this year: to the slight, skilful Justine Henin-Hardenne, of Belgium, 6-3, 6-4, in the Charleston final on the green clay of South Carolina in April; and to Mauresmo, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, in the Rome final on the red clay of the Foro Italico last month.
The fifth-seeded Mauresmo, who today stands between Williams and a possible semi-final against Henin-Hardenne, does not contradict the American's self-assessment. "I think if Serena plays her best tennis ever, and with no mistakes, no, I cannot win," she said. "But obviously she cannot do that every day all year long, even though she does it very often. So I'll just take my chances."
While acknowledging that Williams's physical power, mental strength and commitment have enabled her to dominate the women's game, Mauresmo suggested that the world No 1 does not move around with such ease on clay as on other surfaces.
Williams, aware that Mauresmo is "playing well and riding on confidence", preferred to recount her own chances she made and missed in Rome, "when I wasn't playing well," and trusted she would raise her game, which was prone to errors in her fourth round match against Ai Sugiyama, of Japan.
Without naming names, Mauresmo contended that "possibly five or six" players were capable of beating Williams. "Of course, if you are not physically strong and fit it's difficult," she added. "But at the same time I think you need more than that. You need to vary your shots, as Justine was able to do in Charleston. What I remember most [of the match in Rome] is the end, the victory. In the beginning of the match, I wasn't playing very well. She really dominated the first set, then I managed to come back. But it's more the emotional factor I remember."
Emotion is a key question for Mauresmo as she steps into her first French Open quarter-final. "I wasn't handling the pressure well in the past few years," she said, "but now I don't think so much about the expectations. I concentrate on the match and try not to pay attention to what's going on around me."
The spectators - those able to travel to Roland Garros in spite of a national strike - are sure to let her know they are there.
FRENCH OPEN RESULTS FROM ROLAND GARROS
Fourth round: F GONZALEZ (Chile) bt J NIEMINEN (Fin) 6-3 6-3 6-2; J C FERRERO (Sp) bt F MANTILLA (Sp) 6-2 6-1 6-1; G CORIA (Arg) bt M Zabaleta (Arg) 6-4 7-6 5-7 6-7 6-3; A COSTA (Sp) bt A CLEMENT (Fr) 6-2 7-5 7-5; T ROBREDO (Sp) bt G KUERTEN (Br) 6-4 1-6 7-6 6-4.
Quarter-final: W ARTHURS and P HANLEY (Aus) bt L Arnold and M Hood (Arg) 4-6 7-6 9-7.
Third round: M Matevzic (Sloven) and H Nagyova (Slovak) bt S Farina Elia and T Garbin (It) 6-4 6-3; E Bovina (Rus) and A Molik (Aus) bt L DAVENPORT and L RAYMOND (US) w/o; K CLIJSTERS (Bel) and A SUGIYAMA (Japan) bt E Daniilidou (Gr) and R Grande (It) 6-2 6-0; C BLACK (Zim) and E LIKHOVTSEVA (Rus) bt E GAGLIARDI and P SCHNYDER (Swit) 6-1 6-4; J HUSAROVA (Slovak) and B SCHETT (Aut) bt J DOKIC (Serb-M) and N PETROVA (Rus) 7-6 6-4; N DECHY and E LOIT (Fr) bt P MANDULA (Hun) and P WARTUSCH (Aut) 6-2 6-2; D HANTUCHOVA (Slovak) and C RUBIN (US) bt S KUZNETSOVA (Rus) and M NAVRATILOVA (US) 6-4 3-6 7-5.
Second round: C Fernandez and G Etlis (Arg) bt I Pistolesi (Isr) and L Friedl (Cz Rep) 3-6 6-3 6-4; C Morariu (US) and J Bjorkman (Swe) bt M NAVRATILOVA (US) and L PAES (Ind) 7-6 6-2; K Srebotnik (Sloven) and B Bryan (US) bt B Schett (Aut) and M Knowles (Bah) 4-6 7-5 6-1.
First round, selected: D Mullings (Bah) bt J Goodall (GB) 6-7 6-4 6-4; A MURRAY (GB) bt B Evans (US) 6-4 7-5; D Brewer (GB) bt F Gil (Por) 6-7 6-4 6-3; M MONTCOURT (Fr) bt J Baker (GB) 6-2 6-2. Second round: Brewer bt L KIRCHE (Br) 6-4 6-7 6-4.
First round, selected: F Mergea and H Tecau (Rom) bt J Goodall (GB) and L Migani (Arg) 6-2 6-2; M Montcourt and J-W Tsonga (Fr) bt J H Galung (Neth) and A Murray (GB) 6-1 6-2.
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