- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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PARIS -- Tommy Robredo is one of tennis' most tenacious survivors. The 31-year-old missed five months last year with a thigh injury and fell out of the top 100 for the first time in a dozen years. He missed this event the past two years, but has blossomed on his return to Roland Garros.
And he was in for another challenge Sunday in the form of his third-round opponent, Nicolas Almagro, a player whose raw, oozing skill is matched by few.
He strikes the ball so purely, snaps off winners with an undeniable dash and, even though he's listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds, he leads the ATP World Tour in aces. Problem is, he sometimes can be a bit of a knucklehead and ease up when he thinks he's won a match.
This was the case Sunday. The No. 11-seeded Almagro handled Robredo in the first two sets and had a seemingly commanding 4-1 lead in the third when … he lost five straight games and let his fellow Spaniard back into the match.
Sunday, almost impossibly, it happened for a third straight time. Robredo prevailed 6-7 (5), 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in a raucous match on Court Suzanne Lenglen that required 3 hours, 49 minutes.
How rare are three consecutive 0-2 comebacks? The last time it happened in a Grand Slam? If you're a fan of the game, you no doubt remember Henri Cochet, who pulled of the triple escape at Wimbledon -- in 1927.
After Almagro's backhand volley found the net, after Robredo met him at the net and shook the chair umpire's hand, Robredo collapsed on the clay, head on racket, and sobbed. Three minutes later, sitting in his changeover chair to a prolonged standing ovation, he wiped his eyes with a changeover towel, yet the tears kept coming.
"I don't know why, but I have the impression I have been crying quite a lot recently," Robredo said later. "And today, again, my emotions were so strong they were overpowering. There was a lot of tension before the match, and then at the end of the match I wanted to find a way out from my emotions.
"For me it was so incredible to come up against Nico, because he dictates everything on such a surface, and I turned the match around. That was incredible. I'm so happy."
Robredo has now reached the quarterfinals here five times in his past nine appearances. He meets David Ferrer, to whom he has lost six times in eight matches, most recently back in February in Buenos Aires.
Alamagro, who finally cracked the Grand Slam code somewhere other than Paris by reaching the quarters at the Australian Open, was looking for his fourth quarterfinal at Roland Garros in six years.
"I think that being in quarterfinals again, it's amazing, and also, with three comebacks the way I did, it's amazing, also," Robredo said. "So, yeah, I just need to enjoy it because I think that in tennis, we need to enjoy also when we do great things and keep focus, keep focus. Because if it's possible, why not?"
Under the radar
Don't look now, but Svetlana Kuznetsova is making another run here at the French Open.
The 2009 champion at Roland Garros is unseeded, but vaulted into the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 defeat of No. 8 Angelique Kerber.
The 27-year-old Russian, who has been to the quarters six times now, saw her ranking slip as low as No. 85 last year. Now she's back to No. 39. What is it about the Grand Slams that bring out the best in her?
"It just comes naturally," said Kuznetsov. "I don't have to push myself or want something, because in small tournaments, [it's] a little bit difficult. Here it's just like the French Open. It says everything.
"Like I turn myself on quickly."
When one reporter suggested that she is flying under the radar here in Paris, Kuznetsova smiled.
"I didn't know I was flying, actually," said the Russian. "But OK."
The flight may not last much longer. On Tuesday, Kuznetsova's opponent in the quarters is No. 1-seeded Serena Williams, who has lost all of 10 games in eight successful sets.
Even at the age of 31, he is one of the most consistent performers on the ATP World Tour. But we'll bet you didn't know Ferrer has now reached the singles quarterfinals in six consecutive Grand Slams.
The No. 4 seed here defeated No. 23 Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 in a tidy 1 hour, 45 minutes. He has now won all 12 of the sets he has contested. Next, he gets Robredo. He can equal his best career effort here (and at a Grand Slam) with a victory into the semifinals.
Ferrer was asked in his postmatch news conference if he believed he could win a first-ever Grand Slam singles title.
"No," he replied, "I will think only about the quarterfinals. Why should I think about something else? I have to reach this step first. It's step by step.
"I know I can improve my serve so that I can win the quarterfinals. And then, of course, winning a Grand Slam is not something I'll think about. I don't even think that [Rafael] Nadal is thinking about it, even though he's won seven times here, the finals."
Tough loss for Djokovic
He is still a perfect 3-for-3 on the court here at Roland Garros, but No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic is reeling off it.
After his third-round victory over Grigor Dimitrov, Djokovic learned in the locker room that his first coach, Jelena Gencic, had passed away. Reportedly, he broke down and cried. As a result, Djokovic declined to appear for a postmatch news conference, sending his apologies to the media.
You might remember CBS' "60 Minutes" feature on Djokovic when he presented Gencic with his 2011 championship trophy from Wimbledon. She introduced Djokovic to the game and coached him from the age of 6 to 11. She also encouraged him to read poetry and learn new languages. Gencic coached the women's teams from the former Yugoslavia and Serbia and was an adviser to Monica Seles.