PARIS - As the fourth and final set reached the crisis point and Marat Safin's brilliance began to desert him, it seemed like only a matter of time until he produced one of his famous explosions.
But for the third match in a row at this French Open, there were no smashed rackets or livid tirades. This time, Safin grasped the butt of the handle with one hand, the top of the frame with the other and feigned splintering it over his cocked knee.
He then went about the business of shutting down 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, 7-6 (5), 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (2), to vault into the round of 16.
Was this the kinder, gentler and more composed Safin on display yesterday as he put on one of his more driven performances?
"You don't want to waste any energy," he said. "Of course, I get upset and sometimes I will explode. Maybe next one or maybe, if I continue, in another one. But definitely, I try to stay as calm as I can. We're playing for a big event and especially against players like Ferrero, you can't go crazy."
Safin sat at a post-match interview table, his thick hair tousled and tangled and his antic face full of gestures, as a man who once, by his own count, smashed 43 rackets in a season.
This was an exceptionally important victory against one of the many skilled Spanish and Argentine clay-courters who had the best chance of winning this second Grand Slam of the season.
It was a third straight day of big crowds and warm weather, though 10 degrees cooler than the low 90s of Friday. None of it, however, was enough to save local heroine Amelie Mauresmo from another French flop.
She went down to talented Serbian Ana Ivanovic, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. She's never been past the quarters of her home Slam.
Both tournaments were finishing up the third round with No. 3 Safin, No. 8 Guillermo Coria, No. 12 Nikolay Davydenko and No. 15 Robredo reaching the fourth round. They were joined by Jose Acasuso, Andy Roddick's conqueror, and Mariano Puerta. Two matches were in suspension because of darkness with No. 9 Guillermo Canas leading Paul-Henri Mathieu by two sets and Nicolas Kiefer up two sets to one over Igor Andreev.
On the women's side, favorite Justine Henin-Hardenne put on a bravura performance after losing the first five games of the match, coming back to defeat her third straight Spanish opponent, Anabel Medina Garrigues, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
She has now won 20 straight matches, all on clay, and extended her season record to 43-2.
Henin-Hardenne was joined in the fourth round by No. 2 Maria Sharapova, No. 6 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 7 Nadia Petrova, No. 12 Elena Bovina and Francesca Schiavone. Thirteenth seed Nathalie Dechy was erased by Nuria Llagostera Vives.
Medina Garrigues doesn't have a dangerous serve, and she's not a risky player. But she got back almost everything within her reach, putting the pressure on Henin-Hardenne to seize the match by the throat with aggressive and winning shots.
Not until late in the first set did she finally seem to get calibrated. This was not the easy run to the victory circle suggested by the scores of the final two sets. Henin-Hardenne was constantly under pressure, and she missed a couple of overheads and made some amateurish decisions.
But when the match was on the line, she finished it emphatically, trying to disregard the pulled muscle in her right leg.
"Same problem I've had for weeks," she said. "I've gotten used to the pain, but I can't play constantly and over a long term."
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Jose Acasuso def. Filippo Volandri (27), 3-0, retired. Mariano Puerta def. Stanislas Wawrinka, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4. Nikolay Davydenko (12) def. Tommy Haas (21), 7-5, 6-0, 6-0. Marat Safin (3) def. Juan Carlos Ferrero (32), 7-6 (5), 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (2).
Tommy Robredo (15) def. David Sanchez, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1. Guillermo Coria (8) def. Jurgen Melzer, 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (2). Guillermo Canas (9) leads Paul-Henri Mathieu, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 2-2, susp., darkness. Nicolas Kiefer (28) leads Igor Andreev, 6-4, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 4-4, susp., darkness.
Elena Bovina (12) def. Tatiana Golovin (17), 6-3, 7-5. Maria Sharapova (2) def. Anna Chakvetadze, 6-1, 6-4. Svetlana Kuznetsova (6) def. Marissa Irvin, 6-1, 2-6, 6-0. Nadia Petrova (7) def. Shahar Peer, 6-3, 6-1. Emmanuelle Gagliardi def. Emilie Loit, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Nuria Llagostera Vives def. Nathalie Dechy (13), 7-6 (1), 6-3. Justine Henin-Hardenne (10) def. Anabel Medina Garrigues, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Francesca Schiavone (22) def. Anna-Lena Groenefeld, 7-6 (3), 7-5. Ana Ivanovic (29) def. Amelie Mauresmo (3), 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.