On paper, Gilles Simon faced a tall order in the form of American Mardy Fish, who is now the leading player in the United States. Not only did he enter the tournament with a career-high ranking of no.10, Fish was also celebrating reaching the third round of the French Open for the first time in his career.
But Swiss-based Simon did not disappoint the French fans who flocked to Philippe Chatrier to support him. After all, they had waited a long time for this moment. Last year, a knee injury forced the 26-year-old to miss the Australian Open and Roland Garros and, following surgery, his ranking dropped to no.48. This afternoon there was very much a glimmer of the brilliance that helped Simon climb to no.6 in the world rankings in January 2009. He commanded the match with a beautiful baseline game and glided effortlessly around the court. Fireworks were thrown in during the third set when Fish, who was trailing 0-4, was handed a code violation for seemingly cracking his racquet. The drama did little to aid his concentration and Simon closed out the match with two hours on the clock in a victory made all the sweeter by being executed in his homeland. "What I really liked is that he didn't really serve well, whereas usually his serve is so strong. It's difficult to break him," Simon said after the match. "Today it was a lot less difficult than I thought with his service game. I could return most of his serves."
Like Simon, no.5 seed Robin Soderling also enjoyed one of those wonderful days where he barely put a foot wrong in his match against Argentine qualifier Leonardo Mayer. The Swede secured a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 victory - his 15th at the Porte d'Auteuil since 2009 where he has made the final twice - to set up a clash with Gilles Simon.
The complete opposite was true for Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, whose scalp was claimed by the oldest man still in the draw, Ivan Ljubicic. The Croat was always going to be a dangerous opponent for the no.16 seed, who had lost to him on their previous two meetings, and this proved to be the case. Verdasco quickly found himself on the wrong end of a 5-1 scoreline. Despite defending a handful of set points which enabled him to scrape an extra couple of games, he lost the opener and eventually the match 6-3, 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Afterterwards it emerged that Verdasco had been ill since his victory over Malisse. "I don't know if it's something that I ate," he said. "And since that afternoon, all afternoon I stayed in bed. Yesterday I was in bed all day. This morning I was not feeling well. I didn't know if I would play or not. I was not feeling well at all. I tried. I started losing control of the match totally. I had no reflex. I lacked coordination. Little by little I was feeling a bit better, but I was still feeling very weak. I had not eaten anything in a day and a half, so my legs were very heavy. I even twisted my ankle just waiting for the ball, you know, not making any movement." Ljubicic will have his work cut out in the next round however as he faces world no. 1 Nadal.
Elsewhere, qualifiers Alejandro Falla and Lukasz Kubot were also fighting for a fourth round place. Falla, who almost upset Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year, defeated the Pole 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 and will meet Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela, who dispatched another qualifier Lukas Rosol 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(7) earlier in the day. Meanwhile Viktor Troicki justified his no.15 seeding by beating Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The win means Troicki will meet Brit fourth seed Andy Murray in the round of 16.