SPORTS

Armada finds favorable Paris breeze

Men’s top seeds cruise on day five as battling women carve through the draw

Carla Suarez Navarro hits a return to Kazakhstan's Sesil Karatantcheva.
Carla Suarez Navarro hits a return to Kazakhstan's Sesil Karatantcheva. JACQUES DEMARTHON (AFP)

The Spanish Armada's assault on the French Open continued apace on Thursday with Rafa Nadal, David Ferrer and Nicolás Almagro sailing into the third round largely untroubled. There was also hope for a Spanish representative in the second week in the women's draw, with María José Martínez Sánchez, Anabel Medina, Carla Suárez and Lourdes Domínguez Lino still swinging on day five of the second Grand Slam of the season. Whisper it quietly in the partisan corridors of Roland Garros: that's more than France has mustered despite an entry list longer than the Seine.

Nadal, the second seed who is seeking to become the first player in history to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires seven times, barely broke a sweat as he broke Denis Istomin seven times on his way to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 victory. The reigning champion has chalked up his best start yet to the French Open, dropping just nine games and ceding his serve only once. Next up for Nadal, who has won the tournament twice without dropping a set, is world number 192 Eduardo Schwank.

Ferrer, twice a quarterfinalist in Paris, swept past French world 69 Benoît Paire 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. There is no easy route to a Grand Slam final but things may just be panning out for the dogged Valencia warrior, who next faces Mikhail Youzhny before a potential last-eight match against big-serving American world number 11 John Isner, who like most pacemen prefers anything other than the crushed red brick. That said, he came within a whisker of dumping Nadal out in round one last year. At press time, the American was attempting to add a French Open record to his Wimbledon marathon of 2010 where he and Nicolas Mahut played out a 70-68 final set. Isner and Paul-Henri Mathieu were tied at 12-12 in the fifth.

A potential quarterfinal opponent is Andy Murray, who is struggling with a back injury and dropped the first set 1-6 in his eventual victory over Jarkko Nieminen.

Nicolás Almagro, the eternal dark horse who is seeded 12 this year, won through to the third round with a straight sets victory over former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis. Almagro is the polar opposite of Isner, having reached 17 ATP singles finals, all on clay. Unfortunately for the Murcian moper, Nadal awaits in the quarterfinals — provided he gets through a projected clash against world number eight Janko Tipsarevic beforehand.

Almagro's shoes were stolen from his locker before the game and although the culprit remains at large, he took the opportunity to complain about being shunted out to court two, where in a spot of ad hoc diplomacy, he said he ran the risk of finding "people who don't come to enjoy themselves but rather to annoy the players and lack respect for people going about their job."

Perhaps fortunately, Almagro's next opponent is an Argentinean, Leonardo Mayer.

In the women's draw, Domínguez Lino was scheduled to play 28th seed Shuai Peng late on Thursday while Medina and Martínez Sánchez are in action on Friday against Petra Martic and Dominika Cibulkova respectively.

Martic, an unseeded Croatian, pulled off one of the shocks of the first round by dumping world number eight Marion Bartoli out of the tournament — a slap to the Gallic chops only partially offset by veteran Virginie Razzano's completely unexpected win over Serena Williams.

The only seeded Spaniard in the draw, Medina should be too canny for world number 50 Martic, who has never been beyond the second round of a Grand Slam.

Martínez, a clay court doubles specialist, will take on Cibulkova, seeded 15, for the likely chance to test her mettle against world number one Victoria Azarenka in round four.

Suárez recovered from a set down on Thursday to defeat Kazakhstan's Sesil Karatantcheva 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to set up a third-round clash with another player from the former Soviet state, Yaroslava Shvedova, the world number 142, who thrashed Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson 6-1, 6-0.

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