By the time Lleyton Hewitt was knocked out on Saturday afternoon here at the French Open the English-speaking world was down to one singles representative, Robby Ginepri of the United States. By the time Novak Djokovic completed his victory over Paul-Henri Mathieu yesterday the republic of Serbia, with a population of fewer than 10 million, had three representatives in the quarter-finals.
But for the positioning of the colours it might have been the Serbian flag rather than the tricolore dominating the Roland Garros skyline. On another rain-interrupted day the first three matches on Court Philippe Chatrier featured Serbs, who all won without losing a set. Ana Ivanovic humiliated the Czech Republic's Petra Cetkovska 6-0, 6-0, Jelena Jankovic was a 6-3, 7-6 winner over Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska and Djokovic beat Mathieu 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Djokovic did not think he was playing his best in his first three matches, but the world No 3 moved up a gear and rarely looked in trouble against Mathieu, who had difficulty reading his opponent's serve and made too many errors. "I think he can win the tournament," the Frenchman said. "He has everything he needs to defeat Nadal here."
Nadal, who dropped only three games in beating Fernando Verdasco, is seeded to meet Djokovic in the semi-finals. Before that the world No 2 has to overcome another Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro, who followed up his victory over Andy Murray by beating Jeremy Chardy in straight sets. Djokovic faces Latvia's Ernests Gulbis, who knocked out another Frenchman, Michael Llodra, winning 6-4, 7-6, 6-3.
Gulbis and Djokovic trained together for three years at Niki Pilic's academy in Germany. "I couldn't win a match in practice," Djokovic recalled. "He was destroying me. He's very tall and uses his height on his serve, which is one of his biggest weapons. He also has a big forehand. He's a very talented guy."
Earlier in the day Ivanovic took only 54 minutes to brush aside Cetkovska, who had not dropped a set in her previous three matches here. The Czech won just 30 points, 16 of which were her opponent's unforced errors. "It was much tougher than it probably looked or the result indicates," Ivanovic insisted afterwards, without sounding entirely convincing.
In the quarter-finals the 20-year-old world No 2 faces Switzerland's Patty Schnyder, a 6-2, 6-4 winner over Slovenia's Katarina Srebotnik. Ivanovic, who has lost only 15 games in her four matches here this year, has beaten Schnyder in their last three matches and it would be a major surprise if the semi-finals do not feature a Serbian showdown with Jankovic, who now faces Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro, the world No 132.
The only doubt could be Jankovic's health. The world No 3 was troubled by a painful wrist in the third round. "The whole arm is a mess," Jankovic said after beating Radwanska. Having taken a 10-minute time-out for treatment when leading 2-1 in the second set, Jankovic quickly moved into a 5-1 lead.
However, after squandering two match points when serving at 5-2, Jankovic briefly went to pieces. Luckily for the Serb, Radwanska suffered a similar collapse in the tie-break, the Pole never recovering after losing the first four points.
While the Serbs' success has hardly been a surprise, the progress of the French men has been an unexpected bonus for fans. In a year when there were no French women in the last 16 for the first time since 1996, five men reached the same stage for the first time since 1971, although all three in action yesterday lost.
Gael Monfils, who meets Ivan Ljubicic, might fancy his chances of making the quarter-finals today, but Julien Benneteau, the fifth Frenchman, looks up against it. He meets Roger Federer, with the winner to face either Ginepri or Fernando Gonzalez.
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