Commentary

Falla falls on hard times again

Updated: May 31, 2011, 10:01 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

PARIS -- He was so close to producing a pivotal win at a Grand Slam -- again. But when it mattered most, Alejandro Falla just couldn't keep it together.

Falla wasted a two-set lead against Roger Federer in the first round at Wimbledon last year, succumbing badly to nerves as he tried to author one of the biggest upsets in sports history. At times it was painful to watch.

On Monday at the French Open, on the verge of becoming the first Colombian man to advance to a major quarterfinal, Falla let slip a two-sets-to-one and break advantage to fellow South American Juan Ignacio Chela, losing 4-6, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

"It is not more disappointing than last year, because when I was leading today, I think he went for the points," Falla, a qualifier, told reporters. "Last year I was doubting a little bit. I was nervous."

For the second straight day at Roland Garros, two modest names on the card accounted for the most compelling match of the day, following the lead of Fabio Fognini and Albert Montanes.

They slugged away for four hours. Falla was the aggressor, taking the ball early, as usual, and executing some impressive returns. Chela, commendably still ranked inside the top 35 at the advanced age of 31, was the steadier and used his experience to play the important points better. Falla had to contend with a blister; Chela received a rubdown to his legs in the fifth.

The turning point came midway in the fourth. Falla, having broken for 3-2, played three shaky points to quickly trail 40-0. Although he managed to get to deuce, he was eventually broken.

The window of opportunity closed.

Chela celebrated reaching his third Grand Slam quarterfinal by lying back down on the clay. It's Chela, not Juan Martin del Potro or David Nalbandian, who's the last Argentine remaining.

"It's incredible," said Chela, whose nickname, El Torino, comes from an old car. "I had not been thinking of national rankings, but I'm really happy because the higher I am, the better."

Although Chela has Wednesday's quarterfinal to look forward to, Falla faces the prospect of qualifying for Wimbledon if he doesn't receive a wild card. His ranking after the French Open would be high enough to land him a spot in the main draw, but at the cut-off date, it was too low.

"I will request a wild card," Falla said. "I don't know if they are willing to give it to me, but I will ask because I had a good result here. Last year I played Federer, so I know, I might have some chances. But I have to be prepared for the qualies."

Here are four other notable items from the second Monday:

Rafa is finding his form: The good news for five-time champion Rafael Nadal is that he played his best match of the tournament against Ivan Ljubicic, easing past the powerful-serving Croatian 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round.

The bad news is that it was still far from his best.

Nadal shanked numerous forehands, especially in the first two sets, and went only 6-for-20 on break points.

"It's true I am not playing that well," Nadal said. "Sometimes it's much more important to win when you are not playing that well than win when you're playing well, because when you are playing well probably it's easier. To win when you are not playing that well is the more difficult thing. Only the top players can do that."

Earlier in his news conference, Nadal discounted the possibility of Novak Djokovic getting rusty during his unexpected, extended break. Fognini's withdrawal means Djokovic, riding a 43-match winning streak, will have four days off heading into the semifinals.

"I don't know, 40-something victories, you think he's out of rhythm now?" Nadal said, drawing laughs.

Li's husband is a snarky fellow: Li Na's husband, Jiang Shan, can't get any respect.

At the Australian Open, Li memorably complained -- in light-hearted fashion -- about his snoring. She also mentioned that Jiang kept a close eye on her credit card spending.

Different than any other husband?

Li said Jiang's leaving the court when she trailed 3-0 in the final set to Petra Kvitova might have been the key moment; she rallied to win the final six games and land in the quarterfinals.

"I didn't believe I can come back, because she has a huge, big serve," Li said.

Li, who had a confidence-boosting buildup to the French Open, has as good a chance as any player left in the draw. Her next foe is Victoria Azarenka.

Vika's not coy about her confidence: Azarenka lost to Li in the fourth round of the Australian Open, but she was talking tough after a comfortable 6-2, 6-3 victory against Ekaterina Makarova.

"Australia was a very good match from her," Azarenka said. "I think it's going to be very different, plus a different surface. But well, I'm really looking forward to take the challenge and get revenge for Australia."

Azarenka is the lone female yet to drop a set.

Maria Sharapova is finding ways to hang in there: Not far removed from her Houdini-esque escape against 17-year-old Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, Maria Sharapova, aiming to complete her Grand Slam collection, saved five set points over two games in the second to beat tricky Pole Agnieszka Radwanska 7-6 (4), 7-5.

Could it be that destiny is on her side?

Sharapova confronts Andrea Petkovic in a particularly tasty quarterfinal. Petkovic topped Sharapova at the Australian Open but Sharapova won in Miami. And the Russian wasn't too enamored with the "Petko dance," which has morphed into the moonwalk.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.