PARIS, May 28: Marat Safin kept his cool in the scorching heat to overcome Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-6 7-5 1-6 7-6 in a thrilling contest on Saturday and reach the last 16 of the French Open. Australian Open champion Safin, who has a reputation for losing his temper and sometimes his game, kept his composure to win his third-round match after three hours and 45 minutes of superb tennis.
“I think the crowd should get a video cassette of this match because it was a classic,” Safin said as he left court with sweat dripping off his face.
The athletic Russian, a favourite with the Paris crowd since he reached the fourth round here on debut as a qualifier in 1998, trailed Spaniard Ferrero in every set but never gave up.
The 15,000 fans packing the sun-drenched centre court on another glorious day in the French capital cheered him on until he earned four match points with a brilliant backhand winner and converted the first with a raging forehand smash.
Safin, whose rivalry with Ferrero dates back to their time as juniors, accused the Spaniard of acting like a 14-year-old after losing to him in their previous meeting, in the second round in Hamburg earlier this month.
The Russian was furious because an impatient Ferrero had asked the chair umpire to order Safin, who was having an argument with the official after an overrule, to resume playing.
Saturday’s match between the former world number ones, however, was always fair with no complaints about line calls or anything else.
Ferrero, the 2003 champion but only the 32nd seed this year after a frustrating spell, had his chances but Safin, who served close to perfection and remained patient during the rallies, never let go.
Safin, who had complained about a sore left knee after his previous match but seemed to move effortlessly on Saturday, goes on to meet Tommy Robredo of Spain for a place in the quarter-finals.
Robredo, the 15th seed, advanced by crushing fellow Spaniard David Sanchez 6-4 6-3 6-1.
On a fine day for Russia, second seed Maria Sharapova needed just 74 minutes to sweep aside compatriot Anna Chakvetadze 6-1 6-4 before she could head for the shade.
Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne also advanced but had to sweat it out for over two hours before moving past Spanish baseliner Anabel Medina Garrigues 4-6 6-2 6-3.
Wimbledon champion Sharapova, chasing a second grand slam crown as well as the number one spot, goes on to meet Spain’s Nuria Llagostera Vives, who upset 13th seed Nathalie Dechy of France 7-6 6-3.
Henin-Hardenne, the 2003 champion, will face tougher opposition for a place in the quarter-finals when she meets U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Russian Kuznetsova, seeded sixth, recovered from a lapse of concentration in the second set to beat American Marissa Irvin 6-1 2-6 6-0.
Irvin’s defeat means Lindsay Davenport, the top seed, is the only American left in either singles draw.
The 18-year-old Sharapova said she expected more challenging contests in the second week.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher than it is right now,” she said. “I know that as the matches go on, I have to raise my level another notch.
“The matches are going to be tougher, you’re going to feel physically more tired. But, you know, the tougher it gets, the more prepared you have to be... that’s what it’s all about, and that’s how the best are the best.”
Former world number one Henin-Hardenne, seeding 10th after sliding down the rankings because an energy-sapping virus kept her sidelined for months, sounded happy and relieved after recovering from a sluggish start.
Saturday’s third round results:
Men’s singles:Mariano Puerta (Argentina) bt Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland) 1-6 6-3 6-1 6-4; Jose Acasuso (Argentina) bt 27-Filippo Volandri (Italy) 3-0 (Volandri retired); Nikolay Davydenko (Russia) bt Tommy Haas (Germany) 7-5 6-0 6-0; Tommy Robredo (Spain) bt David Sanchez (Spain) 6-4 6-3 6-1; Marat Safin (Russia) bt 32-Juan Carlos Ferrero (Spain) 7-6(5) 7-5 1-6 7-6(2); Guillermo Coria (Argentina) bt Juergen Melzer (Austria) 6-1 6-1 7-6(2).
Women’s singles: Maria Sharapova (RUS ) bt Anna Chakvetadze (RUS) 6-1, 6-4; Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) bt Marissa Irvin (USA) 6-1, 2-6, 6-0; Nadia Petrova (RUS) bt Shahar Peer (ISR) 6-3, 6-1; Elena Bovina (RUS) bt Tatiana Golovin (FRA) 6-3, 7-5; Emmanuelle Gagliardi (SUI) bt Emilie Loit (FRA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-3; Nuria Llagostera Vives (ESP) bt Nathalie Dechy (FRA) 7-6 (7/1), 6-3; Justine Henin-Hardenne (BEL) bt Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP) 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; Francesca Schiavone (ITA) bt Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER) 7-6 (7/3), 7-5.—Agencies