After days and days of rain, the French Open – or as some have dubbed it, the “Drench Open” – finally had a full day of play again. Hallelujah!
On the men’s side, tournament picks Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both needed four sets to stay alive in the Fedal-less French.
Djokovic got through a second day of Roberto Bautista Agut in four sets 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5 in just over three hours. The fourth round match began Tuesday but had to finish today because of the rains.
Yesterday, Djokovic looked out of sorts. Today, it was a much, much better performance. Novak served much better, was better off the ground, though that overhead smash is another issue. Still, he’s not where he wants to be.
“I know that I can play better and I have a couple more gears,” said Djokovic. “That excites me, actually. [It] motivates me to work and get myself in that maximum speed hopefully for the next match and see where it takes me.”
And luckily for him, he should handle what’s ahead. But because of the weather, the Serb is also staring at the prospect of having to play and to win four best-of-5 matches in just five days. In fact, because he played Tuesday, he’ll really play five matches in six days. Fortunately, he’s not faced with having to play a murderers’ row type of line-up like Roger Federer, then Rafael Nadal and then Murray on consecutive days.
He’s fit. He’s No. 1. He’ll manage.
“That’s an ideal scenario right there,” Djokovic said about the schedule. “Let’s see, first of all, whether or not I can win my quarterfinal and put myself in a position to play semis and maybe the final.”
And he’s right. One match at a time. Tomorrow, Novak will try to continue his dominance against Tomas Berdych who blasted the aging David Ferrer in straight sets.
Ferrer was probably feeling the years and the slower, muddier courts won’t do him any favors against the more powerful Berdych. But good win for Tomas.
Murray was on later against final French hope Richard Gasquet, and the usual drama ensued. Murray got up a break, failed to hold it. Gasquet played some beautiful tennis to take the opener. Then repeat. Murray up a break again in the second, lost it. Gasquet played some beautiful tennis to take a 3-1 lead in the breaker and that was it.
Just when it looked like Gasquet would finally beat Murray on a big stage and thrill his fans… Nope. Murray won six straight points to take the breaker and predictably he ran away with the match only losing two more games thereafter for the 5-6, 7-6(3), 6-0, 6-2 win.
The win put Murray into his fourth French Open semifinal and it also gives him a day of rest – after those five setters last week, he’ll take it.
“My drop shot strategy was working at the beginning and then… played too many,” Murray said. “In the end, physically he was struggling. I think I played some really good stuff – I do think I played well. It’s been a tough few days for everyone, but especially players in the other half. But you have to be selfish – look at your own matches and do your best to get through them. I believe I can win the event. Whether I do or not… we’ll have to wait and see.”
And I believe he really can win the event! Didn’t I pick him?
As for Gasquet, that’s just his career. Mentally, he’s simply not strong enough. And everyone knows it.
“I knew I needed to push him. He just played very good,” Gasquet said. “To be honest, he just played better than me. He didn’t miss a return.
“When I’m playing a guy like Murray who is never missing a return, it’s very difficult.”
In the semifinals on Friday, Murray meets defending champion Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss is quietly rounding into form, winning his 12th straight match in Paris after easing past Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(7).
“I didn’t want to give [Ramos-Vinolas] anything to use against me, so I hit the ball heavy. Then I was able to get into the court and vary the pace,” Wawrinka said. “In general, I quite like the conditions here in Paris. I am still able to hit through the ball and make some winners.”
Stan is 2-0 against Murray on clay and has won their last three despite being down 8-7 in the series.
“Well, we haven’t played that much in the past few years,” Wawrinka said. “[Murray]’s improved a lot on clay. He’s playing so well, especially if you look at this year. He won Rome, made the final in Madrid and made the semifinals in Monaco.
“So it’s going to be an interesting match. We’ve had good battles in the past, so I’m quite happy to play him. I think it’s going to be a great challenge.”
And it should be a heck of a match. But more on that later.
Also today, we saw Dominic Thiem continue his maturation process reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal beating Marcel Granollers in four sets.
The 22-year-old Thiem has a lot of firepower and a lot of talent. He’s like a younger version of Wawrinka with a foundation built to win the French Open. And someday, maybe even this year (really, he could!), he will.
“Two years ago, I was here with Ernests and he played in the semifinals. Back then I couldn’t really imagine that I’d go this far myself one day,” Thiem said of his good friend. “It happened two years later and it feels really good.
“Today, we had nice conditions, and I was happy that we could finish the match today.”
Thiem now meets another quarterfinal debutant, David Goffin. The Belgian continued his breakout year overcoming a first set loss to deny Ernest Gulbis in four sets 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Theim, though, has lost four of six to Goffin.
“We often practice together,” said Thiem. “It’s always really good and really tough practices with him. He’s also very nice guy; we hang out a little bit together outside the court. I think it will be a very interesting and a very nice match to watch.
“He takes the balls really early, doesn’t give you any time, and he’s really, really fast on his feet. His game has developed amazingly in the past two years.”
So the quarterfinals for tomorrow are set. On to some quick picks.
Novak Djokovic v Tomas Berdych
I actually think Berdych might get a set here. Djokovic has been a bit off of late and with Berdych basically an afterthought these days (and he has no coach), I give the Czech a decent shot here. But even with the arduous schedule ahead, I don’t think Djokovic lets this chance slip. Not here. Not against someone he has beaten swiftly in 23 of 25 meetings and 10 straight.
The pick: Djokovic in 4
David Goffin v Dominic Thiem
Goffin has the experience and the 4-2 head-to-head, but I just feel Thiem is almost like “programmed” to win these type of matches. He’s stronger and more forceful than Goffin, who really is no pushover himself.
If Thiem can play forward, he should win this. But it could be war. It should be war. The clay gives the edge to the Austrian.
The pick: Thiem in 5
What’s interesting is that while the talk is of how worrisome the compacted schedule is for Novak, it could actually help.
If my picks are right and Novak gets an easy or semi-straightforward win over Berdych while Thiem-Goffin slug it out in five, what an edge for Novak having to come back Friday to play an exhausted Thiem-Goffin winner. And then he’ll have a day off Saturday before final.
Of course the problem with the scheduling is there’s little room to recover from a long match. Should Berdych push Novak to five or keep him on the court for several hours while Thiem wins easily in straights, then advantage Thiem?
And that’s a serious concern. And with the heaviness of the conditions, injuries also could become a greater factor.
Regardless, Murray or Stan will be sleeping quite well tonight. As they should.
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