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Sunday, May 31, 2009
Defending champ Ivanovic off-kilter in lopsided loss

By Greg Garber
Special to ESPN.com

The other champ dethroned

PARIS -- It was jarring to see the defending ladies champion go down so quickly, so easily, but in the final analysis it wasn't really surprising.

Victoria Azarenka, rising with a bullet, has not behaved like a teenager this year, winning three titles -- including Miami -- and 32 matches now, tied for the first on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

Ana Ivanovic, who broke through here last year with her first Grand Slam title, has struggled, winning barely half her matches.

On Sunday, the 19-year-old from Belarus slammed Ivanovic 6-2, 6-3 in a crisp 75 minutes to advance to the quarterfinals.

Au revoir, Ana.

With the loss of four-time winner Rafael Nadal on the men's side, it was only the fourth time in the Open era at Roland Garros that neither defending champion managed to reach the quarterfinals.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Ana Ivanovic committed 13 more unforced errors than her opponent in a lethargic fourth-round loss.

Ivanovic said after the first point in the fourth game, she began to feel dizzy.

"I completely lost my balance," she said. "Ever since then it was really hard."

For Azarenka, it was her first trip to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

"It's something really big for me," she said. "It's a new step, and I'm just really looking forward for the challenge to see how well I with do in my next step.

"I didn't really see the statistics yet, but I was very consistent today and very aggressive. I didn't let her play her game, which she normally does. I was just being, I think, too aggressive."

At the same time, Azarenka was extremely accurate with her shots, making only seven unforced errors.

Azarenka's win sets up a daunting match with No. 1 seed Dinara Safina, a 6-1, 6-0 winner over Aravane Rezai. Through four rounds, Safina has lost only five games.

"Dinara just lost one match on the clay court, and she's been playing great tennis," Azarenka said. "She was just killing people so far. I just need to get ready, really well and play my best tennis to beat her."

After the match, after her nearly one-year reign as champion at Roland Garros, Ivanovic was markedly reserved.

"She's young, so she has really good potential," the Serbian said.

"You're still young, too," the 21-year-old was told.

"Well, thank you," Ivanovic said. "I feel a little bit older now. With all these young players coming up, I start to feel a little bit old."

Five things we learned on Day 8

1. Maria Sharapova, against all odds, should reach another semifinal here: For the fourth consecutive match, Sharapova needed three sets to win.

The only thing that stands between her and a repeat of her 2007 achievement is Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

2. Nikolay Davydenko's got his groove back: He waxed Fernando Verdasco, a pretty great clay-court player, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the quarters.

Once the No. 3 player in the world, the Russian, who turns 28 in two days, has lost a half-step. He may have gotten it back when he saw Robin Soderling beat Rafael Nadal.

"Shock, maybe just for press shocked, because Nadal always winning here," Davydenko said. "Now for everybody shock. But we are players. You know, really doesn't matter against who I play, Soderling or Nadal.

"I think everybody's waiting [for] Nadal, yeah, winning again Roland Garros. But he lost. What happens now? Maybe now [we] have Federer thinking, 'Oh, now I have chance to win Roland Garros my first time.'"

3. The Williams sisters will not win gold this year: Not after they were directed to the exit on Sunday by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova. It was a rousing third-round match and ended in a third set tiebreaker 8-6.

The Williams sisters, who were Olympic champions in Beijing, lost to No. 10 seeds who are the hottest team in doubles. Since teaming together in Miami, Mattek-Sands and Petrova are a sparkling 18-3, with titles in Charleston, Stuttgart and Warsaw.

Next up: Top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the quarters.

4. Gonzo can still play: He's pushing 29, but Fernando Gonzalez loves the red clay here. The Chilean advanced to his third quarterfinal at Roland Garros 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Victor Hanescu.

5. Tennis Tweet of the day (from a homesick Texan in Paris): Andy Roddick: i miss driving, morning radio, castle hill smoothies, and chipotle bowls ... and my dog

Check out our Twitter page and don't miss a moment of the latest tennis news.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Dandy Andy

Murray

Four years ago, Marin Cilic, then 16, and Andy Murray, 18, met in the semifinals of the boys' singles tournament here at Roland Garros.

The result was surprising, considering Murray was the reigning U.S. Open junior champion and Cilic was unseeded. Murray, who had beaten Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals, lost 5-7, 3-6.

It was the last junior match of Murray's career. Cilic, meanwhile, went on to beat Antal van der Duim in the final.

On Sunday -- a day that looked like a Claude Monet painting with high, fluffy clouds floating through a deep blue sky -- the two met for a spot in the quarterfinals of the French Open. Neither man -- for they are now men - had ever before reached even the fourth round here.

This result, however, was hardly a surprise, although it was Murray that won the match with relative ease 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-1.

Murray is now ranked No. 3 in the world, 10 spots ahead of his former tormentor. Last year he followed up his first appearance in a major quarterfinal at Wimbledon with a run all the way to the finals of the U.S. Open, where he lost to Roger Federer.

Truth be told, clay is not Murray's best surface -- actually, it's the worst for his power game. Still, he has the supple, fluid game that translates well on clay when he intelligently tempers the aggression that almost always wins matches on hard courts.

Against Cilic, Murray was very nearly flawless.

"Played well," Murray said. "Played maybe two bad service games, but you're always going to have a couple of moments like that in five-set matches. I played a solid tiebreaker, and I was obviously very happy to win in straight sets, because he's been playing very well."

Cilic, at 20, had been the youngest man left in draw -- five days younger than Del Potro. This would have been the biggest win of his career -- just as 2005 Roland Garros was.

Murray becomes only the third British male quarterfinalist here in the Open era. Next up: Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 winner over Victor Hanescu.

There is a growing consensus that Murray will soon win a Grand Slam, but before Novak Djokovic lost on Saturday, and before Rafael Nadal was shocked by Robin Soderling, few dared to dream it could happen here.

Now, all bets are off.

-- Greg Garber

Aptly named

Sandgren

Tennys Sandgren -- yes, that's his given name -- wasn't sure he heard right on Friday when his USTA coaches, Jay Berger and Jose Higueras, told him he would be hitting with Rafael Nadal.

"I never hit with a top 50 pro before, and this is Rafa," Sandgren said on Sunday. "I was a little nervous about spraying balls all over the place. I wanted him to have a good workout."

Sandgren, an engaging 17-year-old from Gallatin, Tenn., warmed up Nadal for his third-round match with Lleyton Hewitt. Apparently impressed, Nadal's camp invited him back for a second time, and Sandgren practiced with Nadal for 90 minutes on Saturday.

"His ball is really, really heavy," Sandgren said. "I had to play five, six feet further behind the baseline than I would have liked to. The spin is so tight. My callous [on the right hand] started to hurt."

Sandgren isn't visiting Paris merely to serve as Rafa's sparring partner. He's the No. 13 seed in the boys' singles tournament. Sandgren won the boys' 16s at Kalamazoo in 2007 and his combined junior ranking is currently No. 11 in the world.

While Nadal was struggling with Robin Soderling, Sandgren had an easy time with Stanislav Poplavskyy, beating him 6-0, 6-3. His serve was never broken, although he was down love-40 in the final game before finishing with an ace.

The name? Oh, the name. It's Swedish and it also belonged to his great-grandfather, who didn't play the game.

"It's extremely unique," Sandgren said. "No one really thinks it's an actual name. But it is."

Sandgren isn't sure if he'll hit with Nadal again.

"I've got a day off tomorrow," he said, "but I don't think Rafa's worried about practice right now. Even if I didn't do well here, I can say I got to hit twice with a four-time champion."

Devin Britton, an 18-year-old freshman at Mississippi, recently became the youngest NCAA singles champion ever, defeating Ohio State senior Steven Moneke in three sets, breaking a 22-match winning streak. Last year he reached the final of the U.S. Open juniors.

Unfortunately, his résumé did not help him Sunday in the first round of the boys' singles at Roland Garros. He was bounced from the draw by France's Gianni Mina 0-6, 4-6 in just 55 minutes.

Mina, who shares the same initials and country of origin as Gael Monfils -- as well as some of his game and style -- is a mini-Monfils. Only 17, he has a big forehand and is the No. 11 seed.

"We'll at least we've got one Britton in the boys' draw," joked Neil Harman, of the Times of London.

Not any more.

Britton's game, reminiscent of Taylor Dent's serve-and-volley approach, is more conducive to Wimbledon's grass, where he'll play next.

Sloane Stephens of the United States, the No. 15 seed in the girls' event, was a tidy 6-1, 6-1 winner over Quirine Lemoine of The Netherlands 6-1, 6-1.

-- Greg Garber

Critic's choice

Del Potro

Andy Roddick vs. Gael Monfils and Juan Martin del Potro vs. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga: These terrific quarterfinal matchups feature two French stars against the technically favored No. 5 and No. 6 seeds. Roddick was locked in for the first week and consistency will make the difference. Same for Del Potro.

ESPN.com prediction: Roddick and Del Potro, both in five.

-- Greg Garber