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All to play for at French Open after early exits of top seeds

For a while at the French Open yesterday, it felt a little like someone had turned the clock back five years, with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic on centre stage at Roland Garros.

Svetlana Kuznetsova enjoys her victory over Petra Kvitova
Svetlana Kuznetsova enjoys her victory over Petra Kvitova

Ivanovic, the 2008 champion, bit the orange dust yesterday but Kuznetsova and Jankovic moved into the last 16 and, with no Serena Williams or Li Na to worry about, the identity of the women's champion remains more guesswork than anything.

Fourth-ranked Simona Halep is the highest seed remaining, while Maria Sharapova, who won the title in 2012 and was runner-up 12 months ago, remains the favourite but faces a tough clash today against Australia's Sam Stosur.

Former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, seeded fifth, served twice for the match against Kuznetsova at 5-4 and 7-6 in the final set, but the Russian held her nerve to reach the fourth round by winning 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, 9-7.

"I feel really good, I feel really excited, happy," Kuznetsova said. "I really feel almost like Rafa Nadal out there, you know. The difference is I cannot make winners from that far behind, so I have to go inside a little bit."

Kuznetsova, who won the title in 2009 and was the runner-up in 2006, has now reached at least the last 16 in eight of the past nine years. At 28, she remains one of the world's best players on clay.

A 100-1 shot before the tournament began, Kuznetsova is now being talked up as a potential finalist again, but the Russian said she was now mature enough to know that making predictions was a foolish pastime.

"When I was like a little bit younger, I was coming here and I was feeling, oh, I'm in such good shape, I have a plan, I have a chance. And then I would lose in the quarters or at an even earlier stage.

"So I feel as the years go by, I just try to play well in each match and I don't have to start the tournament in the high note and to play well.

"To think about how the tournament will go, it's not worth it, because it's the worst thing I have to do to make it work. I try not to think."

After her best start to a year since she won in Paris in 2008, Ivanovic must have believed she had a chance to win again, but she was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by Czech left-hander Lucie Safarova.

Despite being 12 places below Ivanovic in the rankings at No 24, Safarova had won their past four meetings, a match-up she clearly enjoyed.

Ivanovic was never allowed time to unleash enough powerful forehands to do real damage and Safarova stayed strong to take her place in the last 16 against Kuznetsova.

Halep, meanwhile, continues to go about her business almost unnoticed, but with an authority few can match.

Brimful of confidence after winning six titles in the second half of 2013 and breaking into the top five this year, she crushed Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain 6-3, 6-0.

The 22-year-old has dropped just 11 games in her three matches and from relative obscurity as recently as a year ago, she is now a real contender for the title.

"It's not a surprise to me because I'm more confident now in myself," Halep said. "I'm enjoying the moment now. [My form is] the my best of my career, and I have to be happy on court and to fight for my chance."

The likeable Halep, who won the junior title here in 2008, speaks softly and was congratulated on her improved English by one reporter.

"I don't think so," she said. "I want to improve more. I speak better than last year, but I still have to learn.

"Now I speak more with my coach in English, and it's good. I watch TV, sometimes, and now I have started to read a book in English - Harry Potter."

Halep's next task will be to conjure up a victory over Sloane Stephens, the 21-year-old American who saves her best for Grand Slams and who reached the fourth round for the sixth major in a row.

Sixth seed Jankovic cruised into round four with a 6-1, 6-2 win over another Romanian, Sorana Cirstea.

At 29, Jankovic is playing her best tennis since she topped the rankings at the end of 2008.

A semi-finalist in Paris that year, she plays Italy's Sara Errani in round four, still chasing her first Grand Slam title.

"There were a lot of Grand Slams that I should have won," she said. "Semi-finals, finals. This was the one I would love to win, as well as the US Open."

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