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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 June 2006, 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK
Battling Nadal overcomes Mathieu
Rafael Nadal
Defending champion Nadal will face Lleyton Hewitt in the last 16
Defending champion Rafael Nadal survived a gruelling encounter with Paul-Henri Mathieu to book a last-16 meeting with Lleyton Hewitt.

The second seed was expected to breeze past the Frenchman but needed nearly five hours to prevail 5-7 6-4 6-4 6-4.

Mathieu, inspired by a capacity crowd on Phillipe Chatrier Court, hit 60 winners past the Spaniard.

Nadal, celebrating his 20th birthday, could not match that but his lower error count proved the difference.

Bizarrely, Nadal was temporarily halted by a piece of banana that got lodged in his throat.

He said afterwards: "I started being a little bit frightened. I didn't want to stop in the middle of the game - I didn't think it would look very good.

"Then I lost the next point, and I was paying more attention to my throat than to the tennis. The crowd jeered me but it wasn't my fault. I'm sorry."

Mathieu said: "It was a strange thing to happen. In my mind, you have to wait until the end of the game to get treatment."

My ball-striking was great and I served as well as I've probably ever served on clay

Lleyton Hewitt

He added: "You have to show Rafael that you're there on the court to beat him. He's very, very good on clay, but I don't think it's impossible to beat him."

Hewitt earlier reached the fourth round with a fine win over Dominik Hrbaty at the French Open.

The Australian has been struggling with an ankle injury but put that behind him in a commanding 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 6-2 win.

"My ball-striking was great and I served as well as I've probably ever served on clay," said the 14th seed.

Nadal and Hewitt's half of the draw lost four of its seeds on Saturday.

France's Julien Benneteau ended 11th seed Radek Stepanek's hopes, while Alberto Martin beat 27th seed Olivier Rochus.

Spain's Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo stunned 15th-seeded compatriot David Ferrer 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 6-4, and Novak Djokovic took out 23rd seed Tommy Haas of Germany.

Fourth seed Ivan Ljubicic battled back from two sets down to draw level and was then a break up in the fifth when his third-round match against Juan Monaco was suspended by bad light.

Ljubicic was leading 4-6 5-7 6-3 6-4 4-2 when the match was stopped.

James Blake's third round encounter with France's Gael Monfils was also suspended by bad light.

The pair were scheduled to play on Chatrier court but Nadal's long match against Mathieu meant it was moved to Court One.

Monfils took the first set 6-2 but eighth seed Blake hit back to take the second on a tie-break before darkness brought play to an end.

The winner will face Djokovic in the fourth round.

SEE ALSO
Men's singles draw
26 May 06 |  Tennis
Women's singles draw
26 May 06 |  Tennis
French Open schedule
27 May 06 |  Tennis
French Open on the BBC
27 Apr 06 |  Tennis


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