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Tennis: Male quartet helps French find their voice again

Jeremy Chardy of France reacts during his men's singles match against Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina at the Australian Open tennis tourn
Jeremy Chardy of France reacts during his men's singles match against Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina at the Australian Open tennis tourn

By Greg Stutchbury

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Renditions of "La Marseillaise" and chants of "Allez les bleus" are likely to ring out at the Australian Open over the next two days after four Frenchmen advanced to the last 16 of the year's opening grand slam.

It is the first time since 1998 that France has celebrated such an achievement at Melbourne Park, though one of the quartet, Jeremy Chardy, was at a loss when asked for the secret of their success.

"I don't know," said Chardy, who provided the first upset of the men's draw when he beat sixth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in five sets on Saturday. "We have a lot of good players. I think everybody start to play well this year.

"I don't know what is the thing. But we just play good."

Thirteen Frenchmen made the main draw here, with two, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (7) and Richard Gasquet (9), seeded in the top 10. Only Spain (16) had more players in the main men's draw.

Now, Chardy, Tsonga, Gasquet and Gilles Simon remain of France's contingent.

Tsonga made the fourth round with an effortless 6-2 6-1 6-4 victory over Slovenia's Blaz Kavcic, while Gasquet was pushed by Croatian Ivan Dodig before he emerged from a taut match in four sets.

"I think I started very bad," Gasquet told reporters after he dropped the first set. "He was starting good, the condition was fast, so it was a bit difficult for me.

"I (did) feel not good in my forehand, and same with my backhand. A lot of tension. I was losing 6-3 3-1 with a break point, so it could be very difficult for me if he's winning two sets to zero.

"Then I fight and I return better. The third set was the key of the match, and I think in the fourth he was a little bit tired.

"But I fight as much as I could, and played well. At the end of the match I play better."

The 14th-seeded Simon beat compatriot Gael Monfils 6-4 6-4 4-6 1-6 8-6 in a marathon four-hour, 43 minute match on Hisense Arena.

Both players took injury timeouts during the match, with Simon suffering from leg and forearm issues and Monfils needing treatment for grazes to a hand after taking a tumble.

The injuries seemed to affect their mobility, and it led to several lengthy rallies in which both barely moved from the center of the baseline and looked more like they were hitting in the local park than playing a grand slam third round.

"I was almost dying after the end of the second set," Simon said. "I thought it would be difficult to win the third set and Gael was playing really well.

"I was just trying to run, to find my rhythm and make him run, and I think I did in the end."

Unfortunately for French supporters, Tsonga and Gasquet will meet each other in the fourth round, and Simon will face world number three Andy Murray.

Despite his, and his compatriots' success, in Melbourne, Chardy, who next faces Italy's Andreas Seppi, said he still preferred his home grand slam in Paris.

"I love to play in Roland Garros," he said. "Always my family and my friends come to watch my game in Roland Garros.

"I already play very good in French Open. So is still my best tournament. I mean, maybe I will play better this year."

(Editing by Stephen Wood)

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