PARIS (Reuters) - Just after lunch Alize Cornet collapsed on her back in joy and several hours later as dusk arrived Gael Monfils danced a jig of delight as home hopes soared at the French Open on Friday.
In between there were routine third-round victories for defending women’s champion Maria Sharapova and Swiss great Roger Federer, but day six was a celebratory one for Les Bleus.
Sharapova’s clash against former runner-up Samantha Stosur looked potentially dangerous for the steely Russian but she dominated throughout against the 26th seeded Australian, winning 6-3 6-4.
“Just getting the job done,” 28-year-old Sharapova, still suffering from a cough, told reporters.
Like 17-times grand slam champion Federer, who beat plucky Bosnian Damir Dzumhur 6-4 6-3 6-2 with a display as cool as the Paris weather, the real business starts now for Sharapova.
Indeed, there were certainly no celebrations from two players for whom surviving until the fourth round is their bread and butter.
For Cornet and Monfils though, with France’s impatient wait for a home champion weighing more heavily each year, Friday’s victories really got the pulses racing.
French number one Cornet was ecstatic as she reached the fourth round at her home slam for the first time at the 12th attempt, coming from a set down to beat Croatian former teen sensation Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6 6-3 7-5 on center court.
When Lucic-Baroni, now 33, blasted a return out on match point, the crowd erupted and Cornet collapsed to the red dust — a celebration usually reserved for finals weekend.
“Sometimes I would jump, sometimes I would yell,” 29th seed Cornet said. “It’s not something I think about.
“But after this two-and-a-half-hour fight, I felt so relieved that I fell on the ground. A bit like Rafa (Nadal).”
Any thoughts of becoming France’s first women’s champion here since Mary Pierce in 2000 seem fanciful and her next priority will be Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, the 19th seed.
Yannick Noah’s 1983 triumph is the last time a Frenchman got his hands on La Coupe des Mousquetaires but with Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon all through to the fourth round where they could be joined by Richard Gasquet and Jeremy Chardy on Saturday, hope springs eternal.
France have never had more than five survivors to that stage since the professional era began in 1968.
Former semi-finalist Monfils can always be relied upon for drama and he did not disappoint against stubborn Uruguayan claycourter Pablo Cuevas.
Monfils, 28, trailed by two sets to one and 4-1 but suddenly just when all seemed lost he caught fire, turning the match around to win 4-6 7-6(1) 3-6 6-4 6-3.
It was his 13th five-set match at the French Open with six of his last 11 going the distance and how he celebrated, screaming at the crowd, dancing around the Suzanne Lenglen court and pumping his fist against his heart.
“I’m a phoenix,” he joked later of his 10th five-set win at the French Open.
Tsonga continued his impressive run, claiming a third consecutive straight sets win when he overpowered unseeded Spaniard Pablo Andujar 7-6 6-4 6-3. Next up is fourth seed Tomas Berdych who beat Frenchman Benoit Paire in four sets.
French number one Gilles Simon beat compatriot Nicolas Mahut 6-2 6-7(6) 6-7(6) 6-3 6-1 and will now take on Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, whose comfortable win over Steve Johnson left Jack Sock as the sole surviving American in the men’s draw.
Simon had his own response to home pressure: “I don’t give a damn,” he said. “It has no impact whatsoever.”
Former women’s champion Ana Ivanovic wasted little time reaching the last 16, hitting top form after two close three-setters to thrash Croatian teenager Donna Vekic 6-0 6-3.
The Serb has not been beyond the fourth round since she won the title in 2008 and will have to beat ninth seed Ekaterina Makarova if she is to improve on that record.
Editing by Mark Meadows