What an exhausting yet exhilarating morning/afternoon of tennis from Roland Garros. After a rocky Sunday for both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, things got even worse today with both guys standing on the brink of certain elimination. But then, perhaps, with the weather turning greyer the Tennis Gods smiled…
Djokovic, who shockingly fell behind two sets a round earlier to light weight Andreas Seppi, came out today with that needed spark and urgency racing out to a set and a break lead, taking JW Tsonga and the crowd virtually out of the match. But Tsonga recovered, got the break back and eventually took the second and then stunningly the third to lead 2-1.
In the fourth, things get about a bleak as they could get for Novak’s bid for a Djoker Slam. All told Tsonga held four match points in that fourth set but Djokovic squashed all of them!
Tsonga, who stated yesterday the pressure would be on Novak, simply couldn’t handle the pressure moments of scoring arguably the biggest win of his life – beating a world No. 1 on Chatrier. And just as he did down two matchpoints to Federer at Flushing, Djokovic met the challenge head on, embraced the pressure and the Serb breezed in the fifth to a 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-1 in 4-hours, 5-minutes.
While that drama was playing out on Chatrier, on Lenglen Federer was again fighting for his French Open life. A round earlier upstart David Goffin was up a set and two points from a second before Federer finally gained control. Today, Del Potro took the first and in a scintillating tiebreak did Goffin one better by snatching the second.
Del Potro was up two sets against a Federer who was still trying to win with his “B” game. The Swiss looked all but out of it against the Argentine who, after playing poorly himself early on, was just getting into dangerous groove.
But as Tennis Channel switched coverage back to Djokovic-Tsonga, Del Potro’s ailing knee reportedly became a serious issue. Del Potro slowed, lost some zip on his serve allowing Federer to grab an early break and effectively the match. Once Federer secured an early break in the fourth just like that the match was over.
Del Potro came to life breifly in the final set but it wasn’t enough as for a seventh time in his career Federer came from two sets down to win 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3.
“I thought it was very good conditions for him,” said Federer. “I knew it was going to be tough anyway. I have been struggling to find my rhythm. I did feel it in the first set, even though he was up two sets. I was finding a way back and starting to feel better. [I was] just trying to figure out how to play a guy who returns from so far back on a slow court. Do you try to serve through him? Which I tried; [it] didn’t work. Or do I try and move it around a bit? And that worked a bit better, but it was really in the mix up that I found success.
“[The] second set was a tough set for me to lose, but he played a really good breaker and got the better of me. But I was happy that the first two sets took some time, because I did favour myself once the match got longer. I’m very happy with the way I fought and started in the third set, fourth set, and even in the fifth set, where, obviously, it was the toughest, because that was his last chance and his resistance maybe was the strongest there.”
For the losers, Tsonga and Del Potro, these are two very tough losses. Tsonga had four matchpoints and a guy with his firepower has to convert one of them. But the book on JW is that (like his French countrymen) he may not be able to mentally knock out the opponent. And in this case mentally he couldn’t handle the moment.
Del Potro also has the firepower but once again his body let him down. The oft-injured Argentine is the next new No. 1 in my mind, but that’s only if his body can hold up. And if it was the knee that did him in as the reports indicate, that’s going to haunt him.
“I played a great match, even [in] the third and fourth sets,” said Del Potro. “He started to play much better than in the beginning of the match.
“I didn’t serve well, and this is why I lost [the] intensity in my game. I had opportunities. I missed them. When he had opportunities he won, and that made the difference. I didn’t have any chance to win until the first game in the fifth set when I had [one] break point [opportunity].
But credit to both Federer and Djokovic. Neither had any business winning today. Tsonga should have closed one of those MPs and had Del Potro’s body held up who knows.
And Federer and Djokovic might not hit the ball the hardest or run the fastest or posses the most lethal forehands, but between the ears these guys are better than just about everyone else in the game, and that’s why they win. And it showed again today.
Now both guys will get a much-needed two days off before replaying their 2011 semifinal on Friday. Federer, who seems to be fit – though Federer fans appeared ready to claim a bad bad at the hint of any loss today – has a full 48 hours to hire a search party to find that “A” game because I still haven’t seen it. He’ll need it for the semifinals.
Djokovic is playing a bit better than Roger, but he’ll need the two days to recover from back-to-back five setters and also work out some kinks in his game before making that final historic push. The Serb just isn’t the same man he was a year ago.
So both guys should be good and ready to go Friday. And right now, with the Federer’s poor play I have to tip Djokovc as the slight favorite. But really, it could come down to which guys plays like crap less. I hope not. Regardless, both should be thankful they are still around and in the end that’s what matters most.
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