The cascade of upsets slowed down to a trickle, but the fifth day of the 2014 French Open was far from a mundane affair.
Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Sloane Stephens were in action—and that's just an arbitrary endpoint to satisfy the "rule of three." Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Jelena Jankovic and Sara Errani were top-10 seeds in action on the women's side. The always underrated David Ferrer capped off the top-10 players for the men, while Richard Gasquet and Fabio Fognini continued to emerge as sleeper contenders.
Of course, phrases like "sleeper contender" ring a little hollow as upsets continue to be the top storyline from Paris. The top two-seeded women, Serena Williams and Li Na, are gone. Third-seeded Stan Wawrinka and ninth-seeded Kei Nishikori were both sent packing for the men.
Brackets are being busted like we traveled back to March. But May Madness has its price—namely that the days like Thursday will be fewer and farther in between. The more high-profile players that are eliminated early...the less there are when the excitement starts to mount.
Luckily, things started to calm down Thursday.
With that in mind, let's quickly take a look at some of the afternoon's most notable results from Roland Garros.
Nadal, Top-Ranked Men Cruise to Round 3
Make it 30 straight for Rafael Nadal in Paris. The top-seeded Spaniard defeated Dominic Thiem 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday to bring his lifetime record at the clay Slam to 61-1. While the 125-minute romp over Thiem was slightly longer than his first-round win over Robby Ginepri, Nadal looked no less primed to capture his ninth French Open title.
Nadal won more than two-thirds of his serve points overall and ratcheted up his aggression with mad dashes to the net. He won 19 of 24 net points in the match and surprisingly took advantage of Thiem on his first serve. The 20-year-old Austrian, playing in his first French Open, won less than half his first-serve points and was broken seven different times.
Obviously a bit on edge against the world's top-ranked player, Thiem made 41 unforced errors—largely negating an impressive 27 winners. Like most talented young players, Thiem was at once showing his immense promise while proving he has a long way to go.
“In general, I didn't play bad," Thiem said, per the ATP's official website. "I did a lot of rookie mistakes, but against a player like him you always want to keep the points short. His game was pretty much what I expected. I hope that I can take a lot with me from this match.”
Nadal will face Leonardo Mayer as he prepares a run at a record fifth straight French Open title. Mayer is 0-3 in his career against Nadal, including a straight-sets loss on clay at Acapulco last season.
Elsewhere, Ferrer and Murray each continued their quiet quest at Nadal's crown.
Ferrer, the 2013 French Open finalist, earned a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Simone Bolelli. The Spaniard won more than three-quarters of his first-serve points, had 22 winners and failed to be broken once. Bolelli made the match far easier by making 49 unforced errors and squandering opportunities to overpower Ferrer with his serve.
Murray had an equally relaxing day in his 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win over Marinko Matosevic. Showing a renewed power and confidence with his serve, Murray hit nine aces and peaked at 206 kmh. The defending Wimbledon champion employed a patient strategy for the most part, allowing an overly aggressive Matosevic to make his own mistakes. Matosevic had 39 unforced errors, though he did find success crashing the net for 21 of his 75 total points won.
Youngsters Continue to Show Promise on Women's Side
Another major, another red-hot start for Sloane Stephens. The top-remaining American earned her second consecutive straight-sets victory over Polona Hercog on Thursday, defeating the Slovenian 6-1, 6-3 in 74 minutes.
Dominant from the outset, Stephens played a patient and controlled game. She won five break points and topped Hercog on more than half of her serve points, never succumbing to the power of her opponent's serve.
It was far from a perfect performance. Stephens had 21 unforced errors and was more accurate than overpowering on her serve points. Still, the match went far smoother than her first-round win over Shuai Peng, when Stephens needed a difficult and long tiebreaker to close it out in two sets.
She'll take it, given how she can toil: Second shortest win (time) for Sloane Stephens in 2014 (WTA/Slams).— Ravi Ubha (@raviubha) May 29, 2014
When asked about Williams' upset loss and being the great hope for the United States in Paris, Stephens seemed intently focused on her game rather than a trumped up storyline.
"I think it's the two top seeds (Serena Williams and Li Na) being gone, I mean, it means nothing," Stephens said, per Yahoo! Sports. "Every match is a tough match. Every match is going to be a battle. You have to go out there and compete. You have to go out and compete no matter what."
Stephens will look to make her third straight French Open fourth round against 22nd-seeded Ekaterina Makarova. The pair met in Paris in 2012, with Stephens advancing in straight sets.
Fourth-seeded Simona Halep finally got over her French Open demons on Thursday with a 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded Heather Watson. Halep, 22, was ousted in her first match three of her last four appearances in France and had only gotten as far as the second round.
In what's been an all-around breakout calendar year for the Romanian, Halep seems primed for her first run at a Grand Slam title. She is the second-highest seed remaining on the women's side (behind No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska) and could become an instant favorite if she beats the winner of Stephens-Makarova in a potential fourth-round matchup.
Also continuing through the most loaded bracket on the women's side is Petra Kvitova. The fifth-seeded Czech won 6-4, 6-4 against Marina Erakovic. She will have perhaps the hardest test in the fourth round when she faces off with 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has been in fine form with two straight wins.
Sixth-seeded Jelena Jankovic and 10th-seeded Sara Errani also advanced in straight sets.
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