NEW YORK - He is the craftiest player in the game, but on a bright, clear, upset-filled day with the U.S. Open nearing the midpoint of its fortnight, Fabrice Santoro's spins, slices and deft touches that had carried him through the first two rounds were reduced to gimmickry by Roger Federer, the best player in the world.
The 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (7) victory yesterday was crucial for Federer, who has not gotten past the round of 16 in the Open in the five years he's come to New York, and this win gave him another chance.
But there should be few worries this time, as he will face Romania's Andrei Pavel, the 16th seed, whom he has defeated seven times in a row.
"I would say I never had such an easy fourth round at the U.S. Open, so I really want to take this chance to go one step further," Federer said.
Though there were many eyes on Federer on this sixth day of the tournament, there were twice as many on Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova, whose stuttering run here was ended by Mary Pierce, raising questions about the 17-year-old Russian's readiness to become a dominant player on the WTA Tour.
Pierce won, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, as the sizzling ground strokes with which Sharapova dismantled Serena Williams at Wimbledon were only sporadically in evidence. Sharapova has played nine matches since that spectacular final that launched her onto the covers of magazines without a significant victory.
She lost to Anastasia Myskina in San Diego, to Vera Zvonareva in Montreal and to Mashona Washington in New Haven, Conn., before arriving in New York to face dozens of photographers crowded lens-to-lens on her courts.
Worn down a bit by her third straight three-set match, Sharapova hurt herself yesterday with 14 double faults, including two in the game in which Pierce broke her to take a 5-3 lead in the final set. Sharapova lost the final five games.
Joining Federer and Pavel in the men's fourth round were unseeded Olivier Rochus, the 5-foot-5 Belgian who upset third-seeded Carlos Moya, who double-faulted on the final point of his five-set defeat, and No. 5 Tim Henman, No. 6 Andre Agassi, No. 19. Nicolas Kiefer and No. 22 Dominik Hrbaty.
Defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, recovering from a difficult second-round match, defeated Lisa Raymond, 6-4, 6-3, reaching the round of 16 with No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 14 Nadia Petrova, No. 27 Pierce, No. 29 Eleni Daniilidou and unseeded Shinobu Asagoe.
At night, No. 5 Lindsay Davenport got past No. 26 Elena Bovina, 7-6 (7), 6-2, No. 11 Venus Williams defeated No. 20 Chanda Rubin, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Despite his domination this year and with both the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in his possession, Federer is facing a major test here, and so far he's passing.
The Santoro match brought out all the best in his expansive game. Where he appeared to be tentative and distracted in his second-round triumph over the free-swinging Marcos Baghdatis, this time he seemed to be totally focused.
"I know what to expect against Fabrice," said Federer, who has now beaten him four times in a row. "He's not going to surprise me with anything. He plays differently than other players, but I know what's coming my way."
There will be any number of post-mortems on Sharapova's performance yesterday, but probably the best explanation for her Open flop is that, though she's loaded with talent, she's still only 17. She has some maturing to do. Though no one should question her commitment to getting better.
She was asked if she has approached her Wimbledon level in any of the nine matches she played this summer and replied: "It's hard to say what level you're on because at Wimbledon you're playing on grass. The balls that I hit for winners over there are not going to be winners here. Same thing with the serve. I think grass and hard is a totally different story."
There was no debate on that point, but Sharapova also knows whether she's playing with the same confidence and consistency she had at Wimbledon, and the answer was evident.
"You know, I lost today," she said. "I still have to move on. It's not the end of the world. There are a lot more important things going on right now than my loss."
One of them is the deaths of more than 340 people - nearly half of them children - in Russia last week in the terrorist action at a school. Sharapova wore a black ribbon in memory of those killed.
Pierce, 29, a former Australian Open and French Open champion, kneeled down near her changeover chair after it was over.
"Just a little prayer. Thanks for this opportunity," she said.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Roger Federer (1) def. Fabrice Santoro (31), 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (7). Olivier Rochus def. Carlos Moya (3), 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-5. Tim Henman (5) def. Michal Tabara, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. Andre Agassi (6) def. Jiri Novak (25), 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Dominik Hrbaty (22) def. Paradorn Srichaphan (15), 7-6 (8), 6-3, 6-3. Andrei Pavel (16) def. Lee Hyung-taik, 6-4, 6-2, 1-6, 1-6, 6-4. Nicolas Kiefer (19) def. Thomas Johansson, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1. Sargis Sargsian def. Paul-Henri Mathieu, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Justine Henin-Hardenne (1) def. Lisa Raymond, 6-4, 6-3. Lindsay Davenport (5) def. Elena Bovina (26), 7-6 (7), 6-2. Mary Pierce (27) def. Maria Sharapova (7), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) def. Amy Frazier (21), 7-6 (3), 7-5. Venus Williams (11) def. Chanda Rubin (20), 7-6 (4), 6-3. Shinobu Asagoe def. Paola Suarez (13), 6-4, 6-4. Nadia Petrova (14) def. Silvia Farina Elia (19), 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3). Eleni Daniilidou (29) def. Anna Chakvetadze, 6-4, 6-2.