- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

PARIS (AP) - Robby Ginepri is easy to spot at the French Open in his oh-so-American getup: black baseball cap turned backward and sleeveless T-shirt.

His game, remarkably, has the feel of someone from somewhere else. He slides across the court comfortably. He plays defense. He waits patiently for openings. Even more remarkably, he is into the fourth round at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament, the first man from the United States to reach that stage since Andre Agassi in 2003.

That Ginepri would beat Florent Serra of France 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 yesterday is not necessarily newsworthy, in and of itself. Ginepri is 25 years old, ranked 88th and was a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2005; Serra is 27, ranked 94th and lost in the first or second round at each of the previous 13 major championships he entered.

Yet consider this: A week ago, Ginepri owned an 0-5 record at Roland Garros and a 6-24 career mark on clay. He was ranked 171st in January after losing in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open.

“He is back,” Serra said.

Had Ginepri lost, one day after Venus and Serena Williams were sent home, this French Open would have been only the second Grand Slam event in the 40-year history of the Open era at which zero American men or women reached the fourth round. The only time it happened was at the 1973 Australian Open, where, it must be noted, zero American men or women were in the field.

“Last guy standing. It’s a good feeling,” said Ginepri, who shares coach Jose Higueras with Roger Federer. “I would definitely like to have a lot of the other Americans still in the tournament, of course, but really not trying to let that weigh on my shoulders.”

There are players from other countries finding far more success.

Despite Serra’s departure five men from France reached the French Open’s fourth round, something that last occurred in 1971. There also are five Russian women still around, and, coincidentally, four find themselves in the same quarter of the draw, led by No. 1 Maria Sharapova.

She faces No. 13 Dinara Safina for a place in the quarterfinals; the winner will meet No. 7 Elena Dementieva or No. 11 Vera Zvonareva. All won in straight sets, as did No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion and 2006 French Open runner-up, who eliminated yet another Russian, No. 25 Nadia Petrova.

After stumbling through a pair of three-set victories, accumulating 27 double-faults along the way, Sharapova was sharper ” for about a set, anyway. Her 7-6 (4), 6-0 victory over No. 32 Karin Knapp of Italy wasn’t without hiccups, including nine more double-faults, two of which allowed Knapp to break when Sharapova served for the first set at 5-4.

But Sharapova’s serve and other strokes grew sturdier. She hit a high-kicking service winner to get to set point in the tiebreaker, then smacked a cross-court backhand to end it, punctuating the winner with a shriek of “Yeah!” That presaged a strong finish.

Federer, the No. 1 man, put himself in the second week at the 16th consecutive Slam by beating Mario Ancic 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Ancic was the last player to beat Federer at Wimbledon ” back in 2002, before the Swiss star won any of his 12 major titles ” but has since lost all five of their encounters.

Federer called himself “the overwhelming favorite” going into his match against one of the French Five, 55th-ranked Julien Benneteau, who celebrated his victory over Robin Soderling by tossing his shirt and sneakers into the stands. Other fourth-round matchups include No. 5 David Ferrer vs. No. 21 Radek Stepanek, and France’s Gael Monfils vs. No. 28 Ivan Ljubicic, who erased a two-set deficit to defeat No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko.

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