Nadal holds nerve to win and silence 'rowdy' crowd

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The Independent Online

The hostile French had their say, but Rafael Nadal would not take "non" for an answer. And the 18-year-old Spaniard had the constitution to make his point with his racket.

Having experienced a Roland Garros crowd at its worst, Nadal, a newcomer to the French Open, overcame his French opponent, Sébastien Grosjean, and advanced to the men's singles quarter-finals.

Keeping his head while mature people around him were losing theirs, Nadal walked back on the Centre Court yesterday, leading the Frenchman overnight, 6-4, 3-6, 3-0, and completed the job, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3.

But Nadal is unlikely to forget the crowd's unruly reaction on Sunday after the umpire, Damian Steiner, of Argentina, refused Grosjean's request to check a ball mark on the baseline after Nadal had broken in the opening game of the second set. The Frenchman had played on during the point and the umpire had called "Game Nadal." Howling and giving Steiner the thumbs down, the crowd delayed play for seven minutes, after which Nadal lost a set for the first time in the tournament.

"The crowd yesterday didn't behave as they should behave when watching a game of tennis," Nadal said. "I think the umpire was right, but then the crowd got rowdy, and we should have been taken to the locker-room until the crowd was quiet again. [What happened] made me lose my concentration somewhat.

"As soon as the crowd got an opportunity, they reacted. The opportunity was exploited by Grosjean. Today the crowd was more respectful."

Nadal next plays a compatriot, David Ferrer, who eliminated the defending champion, Gaston Gaudio, of Argentina, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4.

Gaudio's fellow countryman Guillermo Coria, who defeated Britain's Tim Henman in last year's semi-finals, also lost in the fourth round. Coria lost to Nikolai Davydenko, of Russia, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2.

There was one lucky man from Argentina. Guillermo Canas, the ninth seed, had a walkover into the last eight when his German opponent, Nicolas Kiefer, withdrew because of a pinched nerve in his neck.

Maria Sharapova, the 18-year-old Wimbledon champion, said yesterday that she has always enjoyed clay-court tennis "because it's a cat and mouse game - there are ways to trick your opponent." It will be interesting to see whether Sharapova is the cat or the mouse when she plays Justine Henin-Hardenne in the women's singles quarter-finals today.

The pair have met twice before, Sharapova prevailing in three sets in the quarter-finals on concrete at Key Biscayne in March, Henin-Hardenne winning in straight sets on clay in the recent Berlin quarter-finals.

If today's contest comes down to stamina, Sharapova ought to have an edge. The Russian played for only 10 minutes yesterday in winning the concluding three games of her fourth-round match against Nuria Llagostra Vives, of Spain, which had been suspended overnight because of rain, for a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Henin-Hardenne, in contrast, was on court for three hours 15 minutes and had to salvage two match points before nudging past Svetlana Kuznetsova, of Russia, the US Open champion, 7-6, 4-6, 7-5.

The Belgian 10th seed did not have much sympathy for her opponent. "She was afraid to win the match," Henin-Hardenne said. "That was very clear. And when you can see that in the eyes of your opponent, that is very good for you.

"The match against Sharapova will be another tough one but I believe I can go through. There was no luck in my win today."

Ana Ivanovic, the 17-year-old from Serbia who eliminated Amélie Mauresmo on Saturday, also advanced to the last eight yesterday with a 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 win against the Italian Francesca Schiavone. Ivanovic will play Nadia Petrova, of Russia.

Andrew Murray, the top seed in the boys' singles, advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 7-6 win against Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy, a French wild-card. Murray is joined by another Briton, the unseeded Andy Kennaugh, who defeated the Russian Valery Rudnev, 6-2, 7-6.