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Jun 03, 2012, 09.26 AM IST
TENNIS-FRENCH-OPEN:Schiavone's love affair over, Youzhny melts hearts
By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS (Reuters) - There will be no clay-kissing for Francesca Schiavone this time round as the Italian's French Open love affair ended early but a tormented Mikhail Youzhny melted hearts by scribbling "SORRY!" into the red clay after a truly forgettable date on Saturday.
Two years after she memorably dropped down to kiss the clay court at Roland Garros following her unexpected triumph, Schiavone was licking her wounds after she lost her chance to reach a third successive Paris final with a 3-6 6-3 8-6 third-round humbling by little-known American Varvara Lepchenko.
On a hot day when other title hopefuls such as Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova and Li Na safely negotiated their passage into the last 16, Russian eccentric Youzhny was stealing the spotlight with a heartfelt message to the fans.
A disbelieving Youzhny was red-faced after winning only six points, all on his own serve, during the first eight games of the third-round contest against David Ferrer.
When he finally halted the run to win his first game after 30 minutes, he starting scraping a message into the red clay with the toe of his right shoe.
Spectators sitting in the stands craned their necks to read it. Was it 'yippee' or 'hooray' or even 'thank God'?
No, it was much more simple than that.
It simply said "SORRY!", a sentiment that drew a loud round of sympathetic applause from the roasting fans on a furnace-like Court Suzanne Lenglen.
"I just wanted to say sorry to the fans because they came to see a beautiful match but I simply could not give them that," Youzhny, who was once left bloodied after he repeatedly whacked his racket against his forehand during a 2008 match, told Russian reporters after his 6-0 6-2 6-2 drubbing.
Ferrer was concentrating so hard on completing the demolition job quickly, he did not even realise what the commotion was about.
"I didn't see (him drawing the message)," said Ferrer, who has romped into the last 16 without dropping a set.
"I was very focused in the match and it was funny. It was funny now because I won. I'm very happy."
The smile was wiped off Schiavone's face after she was hit by a recurring nightmare. For the second time in a month she came off second best against late bloomer Lepchenko, who at the age of 26 reached the last 16 of a slam for the first time.
"Till the very end, I didn't know if I was going to win, but I kept believing in myself," said Uzbek-born Lepchenko, who also beat the Italian in Madrid.
Also perishing on day seven was a livid Caroline Wozniacki. Estonia's Kaia Kanepi celebrated her 6-1 6-7 6-3 win against the Dane by drawing a love-heart into the clay with her racket before hurling it high into the stands.
"Well, when the ball is clearly out, I don't think there should be anything to argue about," said former world number one Wozniacki, who summoned the referee to argue in vain about a call.
"If they cannot see, they should have other umpires on the lines or use Hawk-eye on these courts. It's a disgrace that mistakes like this are made."
While Schiavone and Wozniacki toiled for around three hours on Saturday, Sharapova's army of fans might be feeling a bit short-changed this week as the Russian has been on court for two hours and 54 minutes in total over her three matches.
"The last thing that's on my mind when I'm going out on court is thinking about who paid for a ticket and how long they're going to watch my match for," said Sharapova, who has dropped just five games in total, after downing China's Peng Shuai 6-2 6-1.
"I'm not sure if that's selfish or not but my job is to go out on the court and to try to win."
Germany's Tommy Haas must have believed in his chances of extending his run into a second week when he snatched the first set against Richard Gasquet on Suzanne Lenglen Court.
Haas, who at 34 was the oldest player left in either singles draw, cruelly had his dreams crushed as Gasquet ran away with the last 14 games for a 6-7 6-3 6-0 6-0 win.
"I don't actually want to admit it, but it's the second time (I've lost like this) on the same court. It was the same thing against (Nikolay) Davydenko, it's five-all in the first and then I lost 5-7 0-6 0-6. I don't know which year it was.
"I don't think I want to play on that court anymore, to be honest," added the former world number two, now ranked 112th, who missed out on a fourth-round showdown with Murray.
Two days after a grimacing Murray almost quit with a painful back injury, he dispelled any concerns about his fitness when he fired down four successive aces during a 6-3 6-4 6-4 hammering of Colombian Santiago Giraldo.
The British fourth seed's potential semi-final opponent, champion Nadal, made sure he would be cutting yet another cake at Roland Garros.
On the eve of his 26th birthday, the Spaniard ominously moved towards a record seventh crown with a 6-1 6-3 6-4 defeat of Argentine qualifier Eduardo Schwank.
Fellow title holder Li wobbled initially before relying on her champion's instinct to edge out American Christina McHale 3-6 6-2 6-1.
Paul-Henri Mathieu, who won a record 76-game contest against John Isner two days ago, was dragged into another five-setter but this time his 30-year-old body let him down. He was beaten 6-4 6-4 1-6 4-6 6-1 by Spain's Marcel Granollers.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
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