Ljubicic and Ferrero please the crowds on flat-out Friday

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
david ferrer

A revitalised David Ferrer beat Xavier Malisse on Friday

Day six at Roland Garros may have offered the fullest schedule the French Open has ever seen.

As the rain cut a swathe through Paris, the decision was made early on Thursday to postpone 22 matches to the drier forecast of Friday. And fortunately for the organisers the top seeds played their part by sweeping through the day at breakneck speed.

Rafael Nadal was first up and asserted himself quickly over the talented young Argentinian, Horacio Zeballos. It took him just over half an hour per set for a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win, and that is fast for Nadal.

Roger Federer also was off court in barely an hour and a half. Novak Djokovic, a little more tardy, took two and half hours for his straight sets win and Fernando Verdasco took rather less to win his four-setter over Frenchman Florent Serra.

David Ferrer steamrollered Xavier Malisse into submission in just one hour. The revitalised form of the Spaniard still threatens to cause some big names some big trouble.

And the same might be said of another Spanish man who has hit a rich vein of form, Nicolas Almagro. It was hour and a half of fire and brimstone from one of the moodiest players on the tour.

There were some players, however, who did not join the rush to the exit gates. Players who have been around the block a few times, who have entertained the tour for a decade or more.

Ivan Ljubicic, popular with players and fans alike, is a gentle giant of a man with a sublime single-handed backhand and a penetrating serve to die for. He celebrated his 31st birthday two months ago with his first ever Masters title at Indian Wells after 12 years on the pro circuit. At Roland Garros, he took four and a half hours to beat Mardy Fish, no spring chicken himself, 10-8 in the fifth set.

The spectators on Court seven must have been counting their lucky stars. Immediately before the Ljubicic and Fish thriller, they had watched Lleyton Hewitt—back after major hip surgery in January—take more than three hours to beat Denis Istomin in five sets.

Hewitt, 29, has now had surgery on both hips and with time out for rehab in 2008 and this year, he surely has more fighting spirit than almost any player on the tour. It is now his misfortune to meet the only man who may have more: Nadal.

Just as Ljubicic was flying the flag for the golden oldies on Court seven, the charismatic 30-year-old Juan Carlos Ferrero was doing the same on Court six. He too is experiencing an Indian summer in his career.

Back in 2003, he won the French Open and was, briefly, No.1 in the world. It was another six years before he claimed his next title: Casablanca in 2009. And this year, he has reached three consecutive clay finals, winning two of them. Ferrero has worked hard on his fitness and stamina off court in order to taste success on court again, and it has born fruit. He took on and beat fellow Spaniard Pere Riba in four sets. He lost one of those sets 15-13 in a tiebreak, then came back to take the final two sets, 6-2, 6-2. Determination like that is compelling stuff.

Ferrero now takes his place alongside four equally intense and driven Spaniards, all in the bottom half of the draw. France, from a starting list swollen by wild cards, has just one man out of 17 left standing: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.


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