Monte Carlo Masters: Top four men cruise into quarters
Twelve of the 16 seeds were in the mix for quarter-final places, but the top four remain on target for the semis
Just four of the original 16 seeds failed to reach their allotted place in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters: Jo-Wilfied Tsonga from the top quarter, Mikhail Youzhny form the second quarter, and Alexandr Dolgopolov and Fernando Verdasco from the third quarter.
Only the bottom quarter remained intact, and a couple of top performances ensured that it continues to remain the strongest quarter in the draw.
Roger Federer built on his dominant opening win over Philipp Kohlschreiber with a comfortable 6-4-6-3 defeat of the former top-10-ranked Marin Cilic.
Still only 22, the tall Croat held his own for much of first set with some kicking, wide serves and strong hitting to the Federer backhand, but the Swiss moved easily around the court in both defence and attack, got his touch just right on numerous drop shots and volleys, and hit his backhand with assurance.
Federer notched up some encouraging stats along the way, too: 70 percent of first serves, just 10 unforced errors and now the same number of match wins this year as Novak Djokovic.
He next faces Jurgen Melzer, who is this week enjoying his highest ever ranking of No9 but who, perhaps surprisingly, got the better of Nicolas Almagro. The Spaniard, also near his best ranking at No12, had already won titles in Brazil and Argentina and reached the final in Acapulco this spring.
However, Melzer had his opponent on a piece of string with his variety of shot-making and also had him at the end of his tether. It was almost the last straw for Almagro when, at the end of the day’s play, the rain began to fall.
With Almagro 4-5 and a set down, and serving at 0-15, the umpire decided the lines were too slippery to continue and play was moved to an adjacent covered court. As it happened, the move did not alter the momentum of the game and Melzer ran out the winner, 6-1 6-4.
So Federer will have his work cut out against a confident Melzer in his quarterfinal and, if successful, is likely to face one of the strongest clay players in the draw.
David Ferrer is enjoying something of an Indian summer, having come close to retiring from the game last year.
Currently enjoying his highest ranking, No6, in two-and-a-half years, he gave the towering talent of youngster Milos Raonic a master-class in how to play on clay, losing just three games in an hour and a quarter of energetic, all-court precision that will surely roll over Viktor Troicki in their quarterfinal meeting.
The Serb benefited from the unfortunate retirement of Tommy Robredo who, at a set up, injured the same groin muscle that forced him to withdraw from the quarterfinals in Indian Wells. In what is a golden phase of the season for Robredo, this will be a bitter blow as he watches the meat of the clay swing pass him by.
So the 11 Spaniards in the original draw have whittled down to one in each half, for -almost inevitably -Rafael Nadal continued his impressive progress through the top section.
His match against a revitalised Richard Gasquet was one of the most anticipated of the day -and the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ilie Nastase had turned up to watch.
The Frenchman met Nadal in the Monte Carlo semi-finals back in 2005 when both were teenagers separated in age by just 15 days. Gasquet had thrilled the Monaco crowd with an uninhibited display of attacking tennis to beat the then No1, Federer, in the quarters, and although he was beaten by a Nadal, the loss did not dampen the expectation consequently laid on the Frenchman’s shoulders.
That burden has, for much of his career, seemed too heavy to bear and he still struggles with confidence in closing out matches from winning situations.
But he determined, on this occasion, to adopt his old attacking ways and, despite suffering an opening break of serve, he then pushed the Nadal serve to deuce with some great depth, pace and angle. Indeed, it took a full 20 minutes to complete the first three games.
True to his word, Gasquet attacked the net when possible but by the seventh game, Nadal had clearly had enough and seized the initiative by attacking the net himself. It was cat and mouse stuff, occasionally with both men at the net together. Eventually the pressure told, and Nadal scored a second break to take the set 6-2.
The second set continued in a similar vein, with Gasquet showing all the flair that brought him such early renown: drop shots, touch volleys and a backhand to die for. Nadal, looking less than happy with his tennis, managed to break in the seventh game but Gasquet, in a flurry of cross-court winners, broke back.
It was a short-lived celebration. Nadal broke again and served out for the set 6-4. But the match should nevertheless inspire Gasquet to stick with his offensive game. It reaped many rewards against the master of clay and stirred memories of the Gasquet magic of old.
Nadal goes on to meet Ivan Ljubicic in what may well prove to be a one-sided affair.
The veteran Croat, who has played with such strength and confidence this tournament, needed heavy treatment to his big-serving right shoulder in his latter stages of his two-set win over Tomas Berdych, and a less than 100 percent performance will not stand a chance against Nadal, especially if the cooler, damp conditions persist.
Last up on Centre Court was Andy Murray in what became an extraordinary bear-pit for the Scot, though not because of his performance, which was impressively assured against the tricky Gilles Simon.
In the final stages of the opening set, with Murray a break up, Simon twisted an ankle that required on-court treatment before Murray could serve out the set, 6-3.
Both men broke one another at the start of the second set and, with Simon struggling with his movement, Murray deployed a number of winning drop shots that the French crowd did not like one little bit.
The remainder of the match -during which Simon had further treatment -seesawed between boos for each Murray point and cheers for each Simon point. Murray raced to a 5-1 lead, resisted some blistering Simon winners in a brief comeback, and took the match, 6-3.
It was an unpleasant, unnecessary tone in which to play and conclude a match, though Murray seemed unfazed, and he is a solid prospect to beat the unseeded Frederico Gil and take up his semi-final place against Nadal.
So all four top seeds are amongst the eight men who will compete for semi-final places on the French Riviera -and not a single one of the five original Frenchman is amongst them. Which can be the only explanation for the locals’ vociferous resentment towards Murray at removing their last hope in the draw.