by Craig Hickman
Today, France had something to cheer. Despite the fact that their Anointed One, the absolutely obvious Richie Red Shoes Gasquet himself, bowed out early once again (check his Roland Garros record; it rivals that of any American male in its, well... lack), the fans were treated to some great victories, a few unexpected.
Amelie Mauresmo, Nathalie Dechy, and Marion Bartoli advanced to no one's surprise on the women's side. But it was the men who raised eyebrows.
Gael Monfils continued to impress by dispatching an in-form Juan Ignacio Chela in a tight four-set match the day after grinding out a grueling five-setter. Seems his new partnership with Tarik Benhabiles, the first (and only) coach that got the top American male as a teenager to the third round in Paris, is working just fine. Coming into Paris after a surprise run the finals in Portschach where he ran out of steam against red-hot Juan Monaco, who won easily today, Gael lit up the crowd with his big serve, big forehand and big heart. (Sound familiar? Those were the days.... sigh)
But in the upset special of the day, doubles specialist and serve-and-volleyer Michael Llodra humbled claycourt specialist and rising(?) star, No. 32 seed Nicolas Almagro, in a dramatic fifth set. The Frenchman didn't let the Spaniard breathe. He smothered the net 78 times and came away the winner on 48 visits. If not for the Spaniard's huge kicking serve which kept him in sets with 23 aces (Llodra had 19 of his own), Almagro might have taken a two set to one lead in the first place. As it was, he squeaked out the third set tiebreak 9-7 after being down 3-5, with Llodra serving.
Venus Williams, in a match against Ashley Harkleroad that turned dramatic late in the second set, Jilly Craybas, and a resurgent(?) Meghann Shaughnessy gave American tennis fans something to be proud of in the wake of seeing the last man set sail for London early.