After seven days of uneventful play on the men’s side, the drama and intrigued increased exponentially on the second Sunday of the French Open. While Rafael Nadal was off celebrating his 26th birthday with his friends and family, heavy favorites – at least on paper – Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were fighting for French Open their lives.
In stunning fashion, Djokovic found himself down two sets to veteran Andreas Seppi on Chatrier. And shortly thereafter, Federer was just two points from a similar fate late in the second set to 21-year-old upstart David Goffin on Lenglen.
And with an early swath of upsets in the women’s draw – World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka was shocked by Dominika Cibulkova and former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova was sent packing by Sara Errani – maybe there was something in the air.
But in the slow, heavy conditions Djokovic and Federer managed to turn things around just in a nick of time, and avoid handing rival Rafa the bests of birthday presents – their elimination from the event.
Novak, who had basically been out-Djokovic’d by Seppi, finally got the upper hand on Andreas, closing out the Italian 4-6, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
“I think he was a better player for the first two sets, definitely,” said Djokovic. “I was very fortunate to come through this match. I was fighting. When I was two sets down, I believed I could win the match, and that’s the only positive I can really pick up from today’s match. It was one of those days where you don’t feel [like anything] is working really. My serve was well. But aside that, I could not get into the rhythm. I was fighting, and I think because of the fight I won the match.”
It was the third time in Djokovic’s career he had come from two sets down.
“I didn’t have such a good start [to the third set],” said Seppi who falls to 0-8 lifetime against the Serb. “Maybe if I could stay in front or so in the third set, it could change a little bit. And that’s the only thing I could do better, I think, to just start a little bit better there, the third set.”
Federer very nearly needed to match Novak’s recovery but down a set, 4-5, 15-30 on his serve the Swiss seized control, and Fed Nation breathed a welcome sigh of relief.
Credit to the “lucky loser” Goffin for making a match out of it. The Belgian used his speed and stylish play to catch his idol off guard early on. But Federer prevailed 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 to reach a 32nd straight Grand Slam quarterfinal. That’s right, 32!
“I thought he played really well. Great impression,” Federer said of Goffin who was making his Grand Slam debut this week. “He took the ball early every time. Don’t hit a very good shot, he can take advantage of that. He’s got great potential in terms of his touch and the way he reads the game. I thought it was an interesting match.
“Obviously in some ways I guess it’s tough for me coming out not knowing exactly what his favourite patterns are in the game, the way he serves, when he does what. But, no, he impressed me, and I enjoyed the match today.”
Goffin, who seems to have a nice future ahead of him, was pleased with his effort.
“It was a very nice day, very nice match,” said Goffin. “I started very well early in the match. I was playing aggressive, and with my backhand, it was great. But I give all my best during all the match. I was a little bit tired at the end, because I play a lot of match in this tournament, but it’s okay. No regrets. I gave all I had.”
With Djokovic and Federer running long, the two matches I thought would need the most light didn’t get finished. JW Tsonga’s match with Stan Wawrinka was suspended due to darkness with the Frenchman up 4-2 in the fifth. Tsonga is trying to avoid a reprise of his 2-sets up choke from a year ago at the French Open to Wawrinka, and I think tomorrow he’ll get those last two games and finish off the Swiss.
In the other fourth rounder yet to go final, Juan Martin Del Potro had just gone up 2-1 in sets against Tomas Berdych when they were halted. And I’ll stay with my pick of Del Potro to beat the Czech in this battle of former French semifinalists. The stoppage I think gives the edge to the Argentine who should be able to handle the mental challenge of the sleepover better than Berdych.
As for the Djokovic and Federer, it’s a good thing they won’t have to play Nadal for another week, because there is no chance either will beat the Spaniard next Sunday playing like they did today. And heck, they may not even make it to the Friday semifinals unless they improve.
While they are winning, eventually losing sets to guys like Seppi, Unger, Mahut and Goffin, is going to catch up with you. But for now they are still in the tournament so maybe the can finally turn things on because the easy draws are over.
As for tomorrow, here are my final men’s sweet 16 capsules.
Rafael Nadal v. Juan Monaco
Nadal simply does everything better than his good friend Monaco does. Everything. And to make it worse for the Argentine, Monaco is just coming off a tough 5-set win over Milos Raonic during which he appeared to be struggling physically in the legs. No legs against Nadal? Good luck! So we are looking at a similar result Nadal gave Monaco at Davis Cup last winter when Rafa won 6-1, 6-1, 6-2. Monaco’s playing better and with more confidence this time around so I expect a closer match, but still…
The pick: Nadal in three
David Ferrer v. Marcel Granollers
At the very least we’ll have one Spaniard in the French Open quarterfinals. And in this all-countrymen clash the big edge goes to Ferrer. The 30-year-old Ferrer has won all six sets against Granollers and I think Monday’s another straight setter. Ferrer hasn’t dropped a set all week while Granollers just went five sets Saturday after consecutive four setters. With the chance to finally get to his first French Open semifinal, I don’t think Ferrer slips here to Marcel who’s never been this far at a Slam.
The pick: Ferrer in three
Janko Tipsarevic v. Nicolas Almagro
What an opportunity for both guys in this first time meeting. With a spot in the French Open final eight, there’s really not much to chose between these two. Janko is the better on hardcourts; Almagro is one of the premier claycourters but the Spaniard can letdown at any moment, or thrill with his talent. And so far both guys have cruised in the 16s, thanks in large part to very cushy draws. But Almagro is the better clay court player and he’s twice reached the French Open quarterfinals before.
The pick: Almagro in four
Richard Gasquet v. Andy Murray
In the match of the day 25-year-olds Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray renew their rollercoaster rivalry. Murray memorably beat Gasquet in that 2008 Wimbledon thriller when Richard was up 2 sets. Murray overcame another 2 set hole to Gasquet putting the pain to the Frenchman on his home soil at the French in 2010. Then Murray beat him again at Wimbledon last year. But Gasquet got him on the clay last month in Rome in three sets, and this week Richard’s been playing some of his best, tightest tennis we’ve seen from him in quite a long time; he’s on a 14-game win streak! And with Murray fighting a back injury, maybe it’s Gasquet’s time. Or maybe not. Since nearly retiring with that (fake?) back spasm against Nieminen, Murray’s looked great winning six straight sets. And he’s 3-0 – winning six straight sets – against Gasquet in Slams. I think Gasquet plays tough but the pressure of playing at home is too much.
The pick: Murray in four
As for the women, I’ll take all the favorites to come through – Sharapova, Kanepi, Kvitova and Li Na.
ESPN2 is back on live at 5am ET with Tennis Channel taking over 10am ET.
MONDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
Court Philippe Chatrier 11:00 AM Start Time
David Ferrer (ESP) v. Marcel Granollers (ESP)
Not Before:12:30 PM
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) v. Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) To Finish 6-4 7-6(6) 3-6 3-6 4-2
Klara Zakopalova (CZE) v. Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Richard Gasquet (FRA) v. Andy Murray (GBR)
Varvara Lepchenko (USA) v. Petra Kvitova (CZE)
Court Suzanne Lenglen 11:00 AM Start Time
Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) v. Nicolas Almagro (ESP)
Not Before:12:30 PM
Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) v. Tomas Berdych (CZE) To Finish 7-6(6) 1-6 6-3
Na Li (CHN) v. Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ)
Juan Monaco (ARG) v. Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Arantxa Rus (NED) v. Kaia Kanepi (EST)
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