Bryan Armen Graham
Tuesday June 2nd, 2009

Since Yannick Noah became the first Frenchman to win at Roland Garros in the Open era, it's been a long and frustrating quarter century for local tennis fans.

But 26 years after Noah's victory, another excitable French hero is making his mark at the hometown tournament.

Gael Monfils, a spry 22-year-old from the Paris suburb of Bobingy, reached the quarterfinals Monday with his clinical 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Andy Roddick. With the looming darkness compromising the strategies and time management of both players, the hot-blooded, fist-pumping Monfils needed only 111 minutes to halt Roddick's best showing at the French Open.

Monfils, who nearly pulled out of the tournament with a swollen left knee, hoped to complete the match Monday to ensure a full day of recovery time before the quarterfinals. Roddick, on the other hand, lobbied the umpire for a postponement as early as the second set, complaining about the limited visibility.

"I knew we had something like one-and-a-half hours or one hour and 45 minutes," Monfils told reporters. "A bit of a stress on me, but I'm happy I made it."

Monfils wowed the crowd with his impossible court coverage, chasing down return after booming return from Roddick -- sure winners on any other surface -- and limiting his American opponent to just 58 percent of the points on his first serve.

Next up for the 11th-seeded upstart is a rematch with Roger Federer, who eliminated Monfils in last year's semifinals. Federer, seeking his first French Open title, is a sentimental favorite to match Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles this week. But he may take a backseat Thursday against the passionate hometown favorite.

"I hope they're going to support me. I'm French. We're in France," Monfils said. "[The crowd] is something that gives me loads of energy and wings. I have wings."

Two days after stunning Rafael Nadal, Sweden's Robin Soderling rolled past Nikolay Davydenko in straight sets Tuesday to secure a place in the semifinals.

Soderling showed no signs of a letdown after derailing Nadal's quest to win a record fifth consecutive French Open title. Nadal still shares the record with Bjorn Borg, who won four in a row from 1978-81.

And if you think Borg is relieved about the record's safety ... you're right.

Borg sent Soderling a text message after his victory Sunday, thanking his countryman for the historic assist.

"He said, 'Congratulations, and thank you for not letting Nadal break my record,' " Soderling told reporters after Tuesday's surprisingly easy 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Davydenko.

"It was very big for me to receive an SMS from him. He's maybe the best player of all-time," said Soderling, who will meet 12th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez in Thursday's semifinals. "The funny thing is, I got a lot of SMS from people I don't even know."

Props to Maria Sharapova, whose surprising run in Paris was cut short with Tuesday's 6-0, 6-2 loss to Dominika Cibulkova.

Playing in her first major tournament after missing nine months with shoulder surgery, Sharapova made it to the last eight at an event where her successes have been few and far between.

The three-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 player advanced to the quarterfinals with four taxing, three-set victories. Sharapova didn't directly blame Tuesday's loss on her workload but admitted she might have performed better if she'd been more efficient in closing out those previous matches.

"This is a very good starting point for me," said Sharapova, who entered the tournament ranked 102nd. "I always say you're only as good as your last tournament. Reflecting back on everything that I've been through in the last year, I think I can sit here and say I'm pretty proud of what I've achieved, not only in this tournament, but in that whole time."

Roger Federer called Soderling's upset of Nadal a "phenomenal achievement" -- but not as otherworldly as many pundits might have you believe.

"It just shows that we're all human. We all lose at some stage," Federer said Monday after rallying for a five-set victory against Tommy Haas. "People always make it sound so simple [for the past] five years, that it's normal that he [Nadal] wins on clay, I win on grass, and then we share the hard courts. It's not just the way it is."

Federer said the media "hype it up a bit too much" by suggesting a player is unbeatable on a given surface. Nadal was 31-0 at the French Open before Sunday's loss.

"Tennis is not like this," Federer said. "You come out and you always have guys going after you, like Tommy Haas today, like Soderling yesterday. I think it only gives them extra motivation knowing that you're the guy to beat. They have nothing to lose, because if they lose, it's a normal result. If they win, it's an incredible achievement."

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