By Julien Pretot
Rafa Nadal put down an attempted coup at the French Open as the eight-times champion saw off Argentine Leonardo Mayer 6-2 7-5 6-2 to reach the fourth round in commanding fashion on Saturday.
Mayer went for his shots in a tense second set and broke the world No.1 back for 4-4, only for the Spaniard to show why he is still the man to beat in Paris.
“It is for me very emotional thing when I am on (court Philippe) Chatrier, a lot of memories come to my mind,” said Nadal, who made only 10 unforced errors with just two coming in a masterful opening set.
One moment that may live long in the memory occurred in the second set when the defending champion recovered after being wrongfooted by Mayer to pull off a perfect backhand lob to break decisively for a 6-5 lead.
He followed up with a game to love, sealing the set with a jaw-dropping forehand passing shot before steaming through the third and ending the contest with a service winner.
Nadal next faces Serbian Dusan Lajovic, who beat American Jack Sock 6-4 7-5 6-3 and also has yet to drop a set.
Should he prevail, he could face compatriot David Ferrer in the quarter-final, the man he beat to claim last year’s title and one of three men to have beaten him on the red dust this season.
The fifth-seeded Ferrer continued his stroll through the draw with a 6-2 7-6(2) 6-3 win against Italian Andreas Seppi.
Ferrer blazed through the opening set but let his guard down in the second after an early break and was forced into a tiebreak he won 7-2.
The third set was a mere formality and the fifth seed finished it off on his first match point with one of his trademark forehand winners down the line.
Earlier, Simona Halep had too many tricks up her sleeve for Spaniard Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor as the fourth seed glided into the fourth round with a 6-3 6-0 win.
The wily Romanian, the highest seed left in the draw after Serena Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska were knocked out early, found perfect angles and defended superbly to counter Torro-Flor’s powerful forehand in Paris.
“It’s not a surprise because I’m more confident now in myself, and I feel the ball really good here at the French Open,” said Halep, who has won more titles in the last 12 months than any other woman except Williams.
Halep, who has dropped only 11 games in three straight-set wins, will next meet American 15th seed Sloane Stephens for a place in the quarter-finals.
Stephens was in less devastating form than in her first two matches but she was still too strong for Ekaterina Makarova in a 6-3 6-4 win over the Russian left-hander.
The American has shown her consistency on the big stage by reaching the fourth round at six successive grand slam events, the only active woman to do so, but her ability to blow hot and cold on the WTA Tour has prevented her from climbing further up the rankings.
Roland Garros has not been a happy hunting ground for Ana Ivanovic since she won the title in 2008 and the popular Serbian failed to break that jinx on Saturday as she lost 6-3 6-3 to Czech Lucie Safarova.
The 23rd seeded Safarova, who entered the match with a 4-2 record against the 11th seed having won their last four encounters, was never really bothered by Ivanovic’s uncontrolled power.
A dejected Ivanovic said: “It’s definitely tough. She’s a lefty, it’s not something we face every day and the ball comes a little bit differently.
“In the beginning I felt like I had a lot of chances I didn’t use. Had I used them, the match maybe would have had a different tone to it.”
Safarova will face another champion in 2009 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova after the Russian 27th seed beat Czech fifth seed Petra Kvitova 6-7(3) 6-1 9-7 in three hours 13 minutes on court Philippe Chatrier.
Kvitova took two medical timeouts and came back from the first with a heavily strapped right thigh, but it did not seem to hamper her as she peppered the court with winners.
But her 65 unforced errors eventually cost her as she bowed out on the third match point.
Italian 10th seed Sara Errani, runner-up in 2012, won 20 points in succession during her 6-0 6-1 demolition of Israel’s Julia Glushko. She set up a meeting with Serbian sixth seed Jelena Jankovic who demolished Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-1 6-2.