It was a sad day for French tennis as their last four male contenders were wiped out of the French Open as the field reduced to the last 16.
The foursome of Richard Gasquet, Pierre-Hughes Herbert, Lucas Pouille and Gael Monfils all found themselves being shown the exit doors at Roland Garros by Rafa Nadal, John Isner, Karen Khachamov and David Goffin respectively.
Their defeats mean that for the first time since 2007 there will be no player flying the tricolour in the fourth round which was last won by a local player in 1983 when Yannick Noah beat Mats Wilander.
Richard is a good friend and is a nice person. We grew up together, with a lot of talk between both of us when we were kids. Now we’re older, that’s all. It was a great feeling. It was emotional thing for me to play with him here on this court Rafa Nadal
Nadal simply swept aside Gasquet, his long-time friend, 6-3 6-2 6-2 as he continued his inexorable drive towards his 11th French Open title.
The Spaniard has yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament and has now won 34 of tem consecutively at Roland Garros as he maintains an aura of invincibility on the clay courts of Paris.
However, Nadal said: “I don’t know what the others think. All I know is about me.
“What I know is I go to the court, and I know that I could very well lose. I can win, I can lose. I don’t come here saying ‘you can’t win against me’.
“Of course I have won a lot, and it can maybe influence my opponents. But that’s their thing. It’s their problem. I can’t answer about that.”
Germany’s Max Marterer, the 22-year-old world number 70, is next up to try and stop that run.
“I need to take care about what’s going on. I hope to be ready to play a good match,” added Nadal. “I think I’m improving, too, every day. Playing better and better. And that’s my goal and my way.
“Richard is a good friend and is a nice person. We grew up together, with a lot of talk between both of us when we were kids. Now we’re older, that’s all.
“It was a great feeling. It was emotional thing for me to play with him here on this court.”
Gasquet had virtually no chance against the ‘King of Clay’ and was simply demolished, by the best clay-courter ever. “His forehand comes out very strongly. I started badly. I didn’t have many focal points on the court,” said Gasquet. “But whatever. He was stronger than I was.”
Meanwhile French number one Pouille was also sent packing after going down in straight sets, despite fighting hard against the hard-hitting Russian Khachanov, 6-3 7-5 6-3 in his second consecutive rain-interrupted match.
“Physically there were no problems,” said Pouille. “It’s rather mental. I played late, I played long matches and it’s a shame that I wasn’t able to conclude over one day, a single match.
“I think that I’m putting a lot of pressure (on myself), and it’s hard for me to actually unfold my game. But I don’t have a true explanation.”
“It was tough to be interrupted, you think about the match all night, it was really difficult for the both of us,” said Khachanov, who had already beaten Pouille in the final of the Marseille Open this year.
Khachanov trains in Spain and has a lot of claycourt practice under his belt which told against Pouille, who appeared exhausted on Friday after just two sets.
The Frenchman had threatened a comeback in the second set when he broke for 4-2, but Khachanov stayed ice cool and broke back, then won 11 of the 17 remaining games.
Khachanov, who will be in the last 16 for the second year in a row now takes on German ‘wunderkind’ Alexander Zverev.
Monfils came closest to a win with match points in the fourth set, but on each occasion eighth seededd Goffin served perfectly and survived to set up a decider, which he won easily as his French opponent appeared to lose his focus.
The Belgian appeared to exchange angry words with his opponent during one changeover after Monfils was given a time violation before running out the 6-7(6) 6-3 4-6 7-5 6-3 winner.
Finally, as far as the French challenge is concerned, Herbert succumbed under a barrage of aces from John Isner who powered his into the fourth round 7-6(1) 6-4 7-6(4).
In other action, the fifth seeded Juan Martin del Potro required two-hours and 18-minutes to beat Albert Ramos Vinolas 7-5 6-4 6-1 to reach the fourth round for the third time.
Del Potro broke the Spaniard six times and dropped his own serve twice; he also struck 32 winners to 29 unforced errors and won 22 points more than his opponent. The first set went on serve for the first seven games with DelPo successfully fending off a break against him in the fifth.
He had the chance of winning the set in the ninth game having broken for the opportunity in the preceding one. However, Ramos Vinolas fought back only to lose his serve in the 12th.
In the second set Ramos Vinolas got the break at 2-2, but Del Potro broke straight back in the next. The Indian Wells champion clinched another break to take a 5-4 lead and served out for the set in the next game.
Del Potro went up a double break in the second and sixth games and served out for the match at 5-1 to set up a fourth-round encounter with this year’s Miami winner John Isner,
“After the first set, I took control of the game, I played at a high level most of the match. It was a tougher first set for both, but I did well in just a couple of points, very important moments,” Del Potro said.
“Then I played much better. I felt good on court, and my movements were okay for today, so I am glad for that. I think I am strong enough to keep doing well. It has been three difficult matches for me, but I played well and I know I could play even better in my next round.
“All the guys who are still alive in this tournament have a big chance to go far, so now the tournament becomes more interesting to watch and to play.”
The sixth seeded South African, Kevin Anedsraon, is a potential quarter-final opponent for Nadal after beating Mischa Znerev 6-1 6-7(3) 6-3 7-6(4) in just under three hours.
As always, Anderson produced a strong service performance, although he double-faulted six times while cracking 16 aces against four from the 64th-ranked Zverev.
The seventh-ranked Anderson, the 2017 US Open runner-up, will now meet Argentina’s 12th-ranked Diego Schwartzman in Sunday’s fourth round, the diminutive Argentine having ousted Born Coric 7-5 6-3 6-3.
Finally, the third seeded Marin Cilic swiftly dispatched Steve Johnson 6-3 6-2 6-4 in just 94-minutes, whipping nine aces and 35 winners past the American to reach the last 16 for the fifth time in 12 visits.
On leaving the court, Cilic handed over a neatly folded official towel to a very grateful fan as a memento of what had been a clinical display.
The Croat next faces Fabio Fogini who had ousted Kyle Edmund over five set earlier that day in the morning.