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Ailing Sharapova, Monfils eliminated; Is Nadal ready for Djokovic?

Maria Sharapova and Gael Monfils deal with illness, eliminated in fourth round. Plus: Is Rafael Nadal ready for Novak Djokovic?

PARIS – Cold was a theme on Day 9 of the 2015 French Open. The weather was congenial, mostly high 60s, with a light breeze. But head colds figured prominently today. If there were decongestants, not Perrier, in the courtside repository, it would have been to the players’ benefit.

Maria Sharapova loses to No. 13 Lucie Safarova in French Open fourth round

Maria Sharapova has been so ill since the tournament started that it’s muffled her grunting. After her first match here, the defending champ declined the pro forma on-court interview, lest she tax her larynx. (“Her voice is dead,” the announcer explained to the booing crowd.) Today Sharapova was visibly ailing as she fell to an aggressive Lucie Safarova, a desultory end to the title defense. Sharapova nobly refused to blame the loss on her illness—“I don't like to talk about it and I don’t think it really makes a difference,” she said. But as she walked off the court, she looked less crushed than simply bummed out, wearing a look of resignation that all but said Well, I did the best I could under the circumstances Bad timing.

After Sharapova, Court Chatrier didn't get a break from the tissues and handi wipes, as Gael Monfils followed to complete his match against Roger Federer. The two split a pair of sets on Sunday night, but the highlight moment came when Monfils requested a blanket. “I was freezing,” he explained. “When you're sick you feel even colder.” Ailing and fatigued from his Week One five-setter—enthralling as they were—Monfils offered neither tricks nor theatrics. Putting the phlegm in phlegmatic, he lost to Federer in four sets.

Serena into QFs; Federer, Murray advance; Bacsinszky tops Kvitova

In both cases, blame the pathogens, not the players. Getting sick on the eve of your title defense? Catching a cold before you play Roger Federer at your home Slam? That’s the kind of irony fit for Alanis Morissette. But it also underscores the fragility of tennis, the precariousness of these win-or-go-home events. One ill-timed case of the sniffles and you’re heading to the airport.

Which is why these records predicated on consistency should mean so much. Roger Federer’s streak of 23 straight Grand Slam semis and 10 straight finals? Novak Djokovic reaching 24 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals—which he did on Monday, running roughshod over Richard Gasquet this afternoon? Serena Williams’ ritual deep runs in majors—which continued on Monday, as she outlasted Sloane Stephens in three sets? Rafael Nadal’s ridiculous record at Roland Garros, pushed to 70–1 as he beat Jack Sock in four sets? Give them credit. And then a vitamin C pack.

Five thoughts from Day 9

To traffic in the redundant, David Ferrer is motoring under the radar. He ground Marin Cilic into a fine paste today, reaching the Money Rounds here for the fifth straight year.

Daily Data Viz: ATP's Big Four into the fourth round of the French Open

• Ferrer will play Andy Murray who turned in a businesslike win over France’s Jeremy Chardy.

• Early in the day—with the dandies fixed on Sharapova and Federer—Garbine Muguruza reached the round of eight.

Yesterday marked the six-year anniversary of Rafael Nadal’s one and only defeat at Roland Garros. The man who beat him, Robin Soderling, still hasn’t abandoned his bid for a comeback at age 30.

A quick word about the women’s doubles draw: both of the teams that reached the finals last year have broken up. A quick word on junior tennis: you can always gauge the popularity of a player based on how many agents ring the court watching his matches. Which means Taylor Harry Fritz, the second seed, is a stock on the rise.

A few Q/A

Picking Djokovic 10 days ago was a no-brainer. Now it's much more fickle. What are your impressions about Nadal at this point? 
—L. Lopez

Overall Nadal has done a convincing impression of…Rafael Nadal. He has played 11 sets and lost none of them. While he dropped a shaky third set to jack Sock today, he recovered quickly and closed out the match with minimal drama. He is moving better than he’s moved this entire year. He is clearly at home on the clay. The best-of-five format gives him margin for error and a greater chance to play himself out of rough patches. That’s the good news.

Will Nadal's dominant opening win in Paris restore his confidence?

The less good news: the caliber of opponent doesn’t give us much to go on. A teenager, a fringe top-100 player, Nicolas Almagro (whom he owns mentally) and Jack Sock—that’s not exactly holding much predictive value for an encounter against Djokovic. Losing that set to Sock on Monday might stick in his craw. (And as Nadal has cruised, it’s not exactly as though Djokovic has struggled.)

There’s no question Nadal’s chances have been bolstered by his play these first rounds. And his businesslike approach—no real drama, no taxing matches—will help ensure that he is fresh. But is he ready for the world No. 1, who’s simply been steamrolling? And has been prepping for this match all year? Bring on Wednesday…..

Remember the Australian Open in 2010? Azarenka was up a set and 4­–0 against Williams. Then there was the 2012 U.S. Open. Azarenka served for the championship against Williams in that final. And now, at the French Open, Azarenka blows a set and 4–2 lead against the same opponent. I want to think that it is a significant mental issue with Azarenka. But then there was Davenport at the 2005 Australian Open. And of course Sharapova at the same 2005 tournament. Clijsters at the 2003 Australian event. Dementieva in that Wimbledon semi-final. Forget the top players, even the likes of Petrova, Shahar Peer, Zheng Jie have all had Williams at their mercy in various Slams. Slams that Serena ended up winning. So how many Slams do you think Serena would have mustered if she didn't have that mind to go with? And yet, all we hear about is power, serve, muscle, strength... 

Day 7 recap: Serena rallies to beat Azarenka, top men dominate

Totally agree. It’s hard to quantify mental toughness. It’s hard to discuss or write about without dusting off the mustiest of clichés that double as the titles of awful 80s rock songs. (Heart of Champion! Refuse to lose! How bad do you want it?) But watching Serena through the years, it is undeniable that she simply possess….well, what are we even going to call it? Unshakable self-belief?

Serena lost the first set today and the response in the room was unanimous: “Guess she is going to win three.” We’ve all seen this movie too many times to think otherwise. I leave it here: Serena has lost the first set in 64 Grand Slam matches. She has won 32 of them.

You seem to think that Nadal was in the wrong regarding the Bernardes incident, but this referee was unprofessional for laughing at him.
Gloria Falkson

Day 8: Ivanovic, Nishikori, Tsonga advance as rain cuts play short

• I don’t think Rafa was wrong for requesting the separation. I don’t think the ATP or ITF was wrong for keeping them apart for a while. (If anything, if would be strange, if the ATP paired them together.) The problem is that what should have been informal judgment is now official policy. And now aggrieved players in the future will point to this precedent.

Something Psquared has wondered about for decades now, but is only finally getting around to asking: What does Europe have against lighted tennis courts? 
Psquared, Los Angeles

I would add an aversion to ice and a fondness for The Scorpions to the list. But, yes, it does seem odd that the French, especially, haven’t invested in lights. Especially as the event looks to remain relevant—as the city council scuttles an expansion plan—it seems to me that night tennis is an obvious play. More hours of coverage means more money. And more sessions means a more even distribution of crowds.

After every Slam's grades I wonder, in general, what does it take to get a D (or an F)?

• It’s the belle curve.

Shots, miscellany

• Here’s Pete Bodo and Arthur Ashe’s Wimbledon victory.

• American broadcaster Mary Carillo will be presented with the ITF’s highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award, at the 2015 ITF World Champions Dinner on Tuesday, June 2, in Paris.