Commentary

Notebook: Haas' fortunes turn for the better

Updated: June 3, 2013, 2:00 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

PARIS -- The unlikely run of Tommy Haas is the feel-good story of this French Open. But Mikhail Youzhny is probably the only one here not feeling the love.

On Monday, after the 35-year-old Haas broke his serve and collected his ninth of 10 games to open their fourth-round match, Youzhny proceeded to break his racket. He smashed it (violently) nine times on his changeover chair before the frame finally surrendered. It wasn't as dramatic as his meltdown five years ago in Miami, when Youzhny actually opened up his own head with several savage strokes; the trainer had to be called out to stop the bleeding. But it probably was the most vehement racket-smash since Marcos Baghdatis took out four rackets at last year's Australian Open.

"In this situation you try to do everything maybe can help you come back to the court," Youzhny said later. "I try this way; it doesn't help really."

This, however, was a bloodless coup. Haas absolutely crushed the moody Russian 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 and got off the court in 1 hour, 24 minutes.

[+] EnlargeMikhail Youzhny
ReutersStephane MaheMikhail Youzhny smashed his racket in frustration, but it didn't help much.
This was in sharp contrast to his third-round outing here, a 4-hour, 37-minute adventure against John Isner that ended at 10-8 in the fifth set.

And now we've come to the news portion of our program: Haas became the oldest Grand Slam quarterfinalist since Andre Agassi at the 2005 US Open. He is the oldest quarterfinalist here since the late, great Hungarian, Istvan Gulyas, in 1971.

"Yeah, these are cool stats sometimes to hear and to know about," Haas said. "Makes you proud in the end of the day. But what I'm really proud is that I reached the quarters here for the first time, not knowing if that was ever going to be possible."

Indeed, in his 12th tournament at Roland Garros, Haas has finally reached the elite eight, completing a matched set of four major quarterfinals for his career.

Youzhny, by the way, is 30. He and Haas are two of five 30-somethings to reach the round of 16, the most at Roland Garros in three decades.

This result was a little confounding, given Haas' age and the strenuous nature of his previous match. That, and the result in Rome last month, when Youzhny clipped Haas in straight sets.

Haas, whose ranking will likely rise to No. 11 among ATP World Tour players, will now face No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic in the quarters. Haas has won three of seven career matches with the Serb.

"One of the biggest challenges in tennis, if not the biggest one right now, [is] playing against the No. 1 player in the world, somebody that's very, very eager to win this title, one that's missing in his collection," Haas said. "I've got to be ready. I've got to have a good game plan and play my heart out and see where it goes."

Just don't expect any racket-breaking episodes like Youzhny's. Haas said he caught himself watching the replay on the big board at Court Suzanne Lenglen.

"I love that stuff," he admitted. "I want to actually look at it a couple of times, and you go back to this place of you've got to focus. I enjoy seeing some of that stuff, emotions, let it out there. It's not always fun to just see somebody in cool, cool state of mind."

Safe to say, Haas is in a marvelous state of mind as he heads into Wednesday's quarters.

Another French first?

Victoria Azarenka began the year as the No. 1 player in women's tennis, and yet there were a number of people who favored her opponent in Monday's fourth-round match.

Francesca Schiavone had won 18 of her previous 20 matches here at Roland Garros and, of course, was the champion in 2010. Azarenka, who says clay is the most difficult surface for her, has reached the semifinals of the three other Grand Slams, but never here, in seven previous tries at Roland Garros.

After wrecking Schiavone 6-3, 6-0, Azarenka has a chance to make personal history in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. The match took only 71 minutes and left her with a 3-0 record against Schiavone on clay. At 32, the Italian has seen her game and ranking decline (to No. 50) in the past year.

"It's no doubt [clay has] been always the most challenging for me," Azarenka said afterward, "but I feel like I'm finally understanding what I need to do to improve. And I feel it's a process, but I'm on the right way.

"I understand that it's not about the game that you really have to adjust. It's about your movement. Because it's sliding. You don't have that much of stability. You have to not only think of how you move left to right but how you [take] small steps to the ball."

Now, only Maria Kirilenko can prevent her from taking a giant step into the semifinals. The Russian stopped American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-5, 6-4. Azarenka has won her last three matches against Kirilenko, including a win at the London Olympics.

"Yeah," Azarenka said, "Maria, I played her a lot of times. I think the last time we played was Olympics. She's definitely improved a lot over the last couple years since she's very motivated player, good friend of mine, also."

Townsend wins again

American Taylor Townsend, who turned 17 less than two months ago, advanced to the third round of the juniors girls' event with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Jana Fett of Croatia.

Townsend is only the No. 11 seed here because she passed on the season's early junior events. That doesn't mean she hasn't been playing tennis. Back in March, the powerful lefty beat Lucie Hradecka, the No. 57-ranked woman, in the first round at Indian Wells.

Last year, Townsend was the junior champion at the Australian Open and reached the third round at the French Open and Wimbledon before closing the year with a quarterfinals appearance at the US Open. The Boca Raton, Fla., resident finished the season as the world's No. 1-ranked girl -- the first American to do so since Gretchen Rush in 1982.

Next, Townsend will play the winner of the match between Victoria Rodriguez of Mexico and France's Alice Bacquie.

New Yorker Jamie Loeb advanced to the second round with a 7-6 (7), 6-3 win over Nina Stojanovic of Serbia. Her next opponent is No. 1 seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia.

Wow-rinka!

The match of the day? No. 7-seed Richard Gasquet versus No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka, in a landslide.

They had Court Suzanne Lenglen rocking for 4 hours and 16 minutes as they traded punches like heavyweight boxers. The wildly partisan French crowd could be heard across the grounds as the sun began to set.

In the end, Wawrinka managed to erase a two-set deficit and his forehand winner down the line gave him an almost surreal victory, 6-7 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6.

Wawrinka is into the quarterfinals here for the first time, but he draws seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal.

Both players won here as juniors, but as profesisonals they only had one previous meeting; Gasquet handled Wawrinka in straight sets in the Paris indoor event in 2006.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.