- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

PARIS | Roger Federer knows Rafael Nadal is no longer around this year to befuddle him, to beat him, to stand between him and a French Open title.

Federer insists he is not thinking about that, not thinking ahead. Still, Federer seemed to play as if preoccupied for the better part of two hours Monday, dropping the first two sets of his fourth-round match against 63rd-ranked Tommy Haas.

One point from letting Haas serve for the victory, Federer conjured up one particularly spectacular forehand that managed to change the entire flow of things. That shot spurred a run of nine consecutive games for Federer, sending him to a 6-7 (4), 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 victory against Haas and a berth in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

“I knew I was going to look back on that shot. That saved me,” Federer said. “I was in quite some danger.”

But he escaped. With two more victories, Federer will reach a fourth consecutive final at the French Open, the only Grand Slam championship he hasn’t won. Federer lost to Nadal each of the past three finals, but the Spaniard’s 31-match winning streak at the clay-court major tournament ended Sunday against Robin Soderling.

“You’re aware of it,” Federer said. “Definitely changes it up if I were to make the final. But we’re not there yet, so honestly it hasn’t changed a whole lot for me.”

Federer now will try to reach the semifinals at a 20th Grand Slam event in a row, which would extend his record, when he meets 11th-seeded Gael Monfils, a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 winner against No. 6 Andy Roddick, the last American man in the tournament.

Federer is 4-0 against Monfils, including a victory in the French Open semifinals a year ago. Monfils dominated Roddick, out-acing him 17-4, and Roddick began complaining in the second set that it was too dark to see.

“Don’t tell me what’s OK and what’s not,” the 2003 U.S. Open champion snapped at chair umpire Enric Molina. “You’re not the one playing.”

It was the day’s last match on Court Suzanne Lenglen, and the start was delayed by No. 5 Jelena Jankovic’s 3-6, 6-0, 9-7 loss to 41st-ranked Sorana Cirstea, which lasted 2 hours, 44 minutes.

“It wasn’t easy at the end,” said Cirstea, two points from defeat when Jankovic served for the match at 5-4, 30-love in the third set. “I saw she was tired also. So I knew it was also a little bit mental: Who is going to stay stronger?”

In other women’s action, 2002 French Open champion Serena Williams beat No. 24 Aleksandra Wozniak 6-1, 6-2; No. 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 1-6, 6-1; and No. 30 Samantha Stosur beat Virginie Razzano 6-1, 6-2.

Williams looked strong Monday as she tries to win a third consecutive major title and 11th overall.

“This is when everything counts,” she said.

No one knows that better than Federer, whose 13 major championships are one shy of Pete Sampras’ record. With Nadal, Roddick and No. 4 Novak Djokovic all gone, Federer is the only man left with a Grand Slam title.

“For a lot of players, I think it must be quite a big opportunity, and their heads must be spinning right now,” Federer said.

The other matchup on his half of the draw is No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro against No. 16 Tommy Robredo - who are a combined 0-6 in Grand Slam quarterfinals. Del Potro beat No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4, and Robredo eliminated No. 29 Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

“Expectations? Everyone has expectations, even myself,” Robredo said.

There are two ways to look at what Nadal’s loss means for Federer. A potential obstacle is out of the way. And now Federer is expected to win the title, which could be a burden.

Dating to 2005, Federer is 0-4 against Nadal at the French Open - and 27-0 against everyone else.

“It kicks the door open for Roger, but suddenly: ‘Yeah, step up.’ Now the pressure’s really on,” three-time French Open champion Mats Wilander said. “The pressure before was to just give Nadal a good match. Now it’s like, ‘Hey, listen, if you can’t win it now, then you’re definitely not considered the greatest player of all time - until you do.’ ”

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