By Allison Williams and Pritha Sarkar
Seemingly undiminished by his marathon two-day five-setter in the previous round, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray beat left hander Fernando Verdasco 6-4 7-5 7-6(3) to reach the French Open quarter-finals yesterday.
Both players completed their delayed third round matches on Sunday and while neither appeared to hit top gear on Monday, Murray showed enough speed and touch, particularly in the closing games of the second set, to send the 24th seed home.
Verdasco’s foul-mouthed blast at the umpire over a contested line call, that in the end Murray conceded, had fired up the Spaniard to break in the third set and peg back the Briton but the seventh seed regrouped to prevail.
Asked if it was his best performance of the tournament, Murray said courtside: “I think so. (It was an) unbelievable atmosphere today, I really enjoyed myself on the court. We played some great points and he fought extremely hard in the third set.”
Murray, still without a coach since splitting with Ivan Lendl in March, will play French showman Gael Monfils for the chance to reach the semi-finals at the clay grand slam for the first time since 2011.
Earlier in the day, concerns that Rafa Nadal’s reign as king of Roland Garros might be in jeopardy due to an aching back proved wide of the mark as the world number one led a mini Spanish charge into the quarter-finals.
On the day that Spanish King Juan Carlos abdicated his throne, there was no danger of his compatriot doing the same in Paris as the eight-time champion produced a 6-1 6-2 6-1 demolition job on Serbian Dusan Lajovic.
Next up will be a man who beat Nadal the last time they faced each other across a net – fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.
Ferrer stalled Kevin Anderson’s bid to become the first South African man in 47 years to reach the last eight of the claycourt major with a 6-3 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1 win.
The top half of the men’s draw could have become an all-Spanish affair if Murray and Monfils had not played spoil sport.
But no one feels more at home at Roland Garros than Nadal.
The top seed, who said he had to slow down his serve in his previous match after being troubled by back pain, left Lajovic with a sore head and aching joints as he went on a rampage to go 5-0 up in the first set before rattling off 17 straight points at the start of the second.
The winners flying off Nadal’s racket appeared to leave everyone in such a trance that the umpire even fluffed his lines at one stage – telling the players ‘to replay the point’ in English before sheepishly repeating the instruction in French – drawing a rare smile from Lajovic.
With enigmatic American pop singer Prince watching from the stands, it did not take 83rd-ranked Lajovic too long to discover why beating Nadal at Roland Garros is one of the hardest riddles to crack.
On the eve of his 28th birthday, a screaming forehand winner allowed Nadal to take his formidable French Open win-loss record to 63-1 and just three wins away from again sinking his teeth into the Musketeers’ Cup.
While three of the world’s top five men are still alive, Romanian Simona Halep was the only seed among the top six women to reach the last eight with a 6-4 6-3 win over Sloane Stephens, whose exit ended American interest in the singles.