Chinese veteran and no.6 seed Li Na started the day by routing Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-2 on Suzanne Lenglen Court, which was followed by Victoria Azarenka (no.4) thrashing Roberta Vinci (no.30) 6-3, 6-2 on Philippe Chatrier. Over on no.7 court, Petra Kvitova (no.9) punched her way past Vania King 6-4, 6-2.
29-year-old Li has never reached the quarter-finals of Roland Garros before, but looked more than capable in her rapid win over Cirstea. Since hiring Danish coach Michael Mortensen prior to the clay tournament in Madrid last month, the Australia Open finalist has become more consistent and secure in her game after suffering a four-match losing streak post-Melbourne. With dry conditions in Paris this week, she has been able to impose her hard-hitting game. She now faces Kvitova, who has been on an incredible upward curve since making the Wimbledon semi-finals last year and was never troubled by the 22-year-old American, even though her service did not fire on all cylinders.
Azarenka hit straight through the tricky Vinci and was rarely bothered by her opponent's sharp slices or rolling forehands. She stepped into the court early and moved the Italian around at will. "I played very well," said the 21-year-old Belarusian. "I was serving well, dominating, and trying to be as aggressive on her serve. I think she also started really well, and it took me a few games to adjust because she has a little bit of an unusual game but is very, very solid on clay. I adjusted really well, and really started to dominate."
Azarenka has reached the quarter-finals of three majors, including Roland Garros in 2009, but has never progressed beyond the last eight. Having won the tournaments in Miami and Marbella this year, she now has the confidence to go with the power to trouble anyone. However, she has also retired in matches in her last three of five tournaments, most recently with an elbow bruise against Maria Sharapova in Rome. Whether she can last two weeks is in question. "It's not about results," she said "Of course, everywhere you go, you're trying to win the tournament, but my expectation for me is to be the best player I can be and to do each day the best job as possible. So when I know that I did everything I could, I have no regrets. And the results are going to come." She will face Ekaterina Makarova on Monday after the Russian upset big-hitting Estonian and no.16 seed Kaia Kanepi.
Later in the day, it was the turn of two Russians, "veterans" at the age of 24, to outclass lesser-ranked opposition and move into the second week. Maria Sharapova is bidding to complete her career Slam with success here at the French, and after surviving a scare against French teenager Caroline Garcia in the second round she made no mistake against Yung-Jan Chan. The two had met twice in the past with Sharapova winning both for the combined loss of 11 games, and today it was more of the same as she emerged a comfortable winner 6-2, 6-3. The 21-year-old qualfier from Chinese Taipei offered some resistance at the start of the second set, but there was no stopping the six-foot Siberian, who established her credentials on clay by winning the recent WTA Premier event in Rome for the first time earlier in the month and in the absence of Serena Williams and the now-ousted Kim Clijsters, Sam Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki is the de facto favourite.
Maria Kirilenko meanwhile has not enjoyed the same storied career as her fellow Russian of the 1987 vintage, but with Clijsters now out of her bracket, she can clearly sense an opportunity to at least her best showing either here (last year where she lost to Francesca Schiavone in the fourth) or overall (quarter-final at the 2010 Australian Open). Today she utterly outclassed Clijster's conqueror Arantxa Rus, the no.114-ranked Dutch teenager coming back down to earth after Thursday's fairy-tale. Kirilenko served accurately, returned hard and fired the ball into all corners of no.1 court, never giving Rus a chance to settle or repeat any of her heroics of 48 hours previously.
Sharapova will face Radwanska, who defeated Yanina Wickmayer (see report below) while Kirilenko will take on Andrea Petkovic. The German no.15 seed found herself locked in a battle royal with neo-Australian Jarmila Gajdosova, but emerged victorious 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, her Petkodance moonwalk more relieved than elated after she survived some scary moments in the decider which saw five breaks of service.