A cold chill circulated around Maria Sharapova as the title holder was frozen out of the French Open on Monday but there was no stopping Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal from blazing a trail towards a scorching showdown.
A day after rain played havoc with the schedule, Sharapova's hopes of reaching a fourth successive final at Roland Garros were turned to dust in the fourth round by Lucie Safarova, the Czech winning 7-6 (3), 6-4.
The Russian spent the changeovers coughing and spluttering into a tissue but the second seed refused to blame health problems for her earliest Paris exit since 2010. "I'm still a competitor no matter what. I'm going to do everything in order to go out and give it my best. I did the best I could. Today it wasn't enough, because my opponent had a different gear than I did," the 2012 and 2014 champion said.
Sharapova was one of eight grand slam champions in action on day nine with Serena Williams and Roger Federer making sure they did not suffer the same fate as the Russian.
Top seed Williams relied on her famed survival instincts rather than her explosive firepower to extinguish the challenge of fellow American Sloane Stephens 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. "I keep fighting, I never give up," a grinning Williams summed up following a performance strewn with 43 unforced errors.
Resuming the match at one-set all, Federer dazzled Gael Monfils with an array of spine-tingling winners for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory that kept him on track for a record 18th grand slam title. "I'm pumped up to be in the quarters again. It really means a lot to me," he said.
At 33, Federer would have been relieved with such a swift conclusion to the match and he will be back on court for the third day for his quarter-final against Stan Wawrinka.
Spanish sixth seed and nine-times champion Nadal tamed American tyro Jack Sock 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 shortly before Djokovic overwhelmed Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. The two will face off in the quarter final match that former champion Jim Courier called "the match of the season so far."
There will be two Spaniards in the men's last eight after seventh seed David Ferrer ended US Open champion Marin Cilic's run with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 romp.
His next challenge will be ending the 14-match claycourt winning streak of Andy Murray after the British third seed tamed France's Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.