Two members of the sport’s elite four showed the competitive firepower that keeps them a notch above the field in Grand Slam events. When mere mortals would have laid down their arms, top seed Novak Djokovic and third seed Roger Federer defied the odds and posted remarkable come from behind five set wins that left the Roland Garros grounds clothed in awe and completely drained of emotion.
Djokovic and Federer have looked mortal at times in this year’s French Open but when push came to shove, both players demonstrated the gutsy dispositions that separate these remarkably talented and competitive athletes from the game’s most ferocious challengers. The come-from-behind quarterfinal win moved the ageless Federer to his 29th semifinal in the last 32 consecutive Grand Slam events and his 31st career Grand Slam semifinal. He has reached the quarters in all of the last 32 Grand Slam tournaments. This is a record that goes back eight years. As great as the likes of Djokovic and Nadal are, this is one accomplishment they may never achieve. The win helped Federer tie Jimmy Connors’ record for most total Grand Slam semifinal appearances.
Federer started slowly and at times looked over-matched against 9th seeded Argentine fireballer Juan Martin del Potro, who had success picking on the 30-year old Federer’s signature one-hand backhand.
Juan Martin broke Federer’s serve four times in the first two sets while losing his own serve just once. His penetrating forehand was racking up winners at a rapid pace as del Potro showed the patience that clay courts require.
Roger hung tough in the second set, managing to deny del Potro’s serve for the set in the 10thth game as both players held to force a tiebreaker. Again, del Potro jumped out to an early lead, but Federer began to mount a charge. This time del Potro would have none of it. He served out the tiebreaker to take a two-set lead.
Historians of the game know that Federer has risen from the ashes at Roland Garros before. He came from two sets down against Tommy Haas in 2009 and also against Sargis Sargdsian in 2001. Prior to this quarterfinal match Federer had played in 34 five set matches holding an 18-16 edge.
As the two players prepped for set three, del Potro had all the momentum and had generated all the offense. He seemed charged after winning the tiebreaker. The Argentine received medical attention in the middle of the third set but refused to discuss it post match interviews after the conclusion of the 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 loss.
Displaying the class that typifies his demeanor, del Potro complimented Federer saying that his inability to hold serve was the difference in the match.
Djokovic Stuns Tsonga and Spectators
The standing room only crowd at packed Court Philippe Chatrier fell silent during Jo Wily Tsonga’s first set un-energized performance in the first set of his quarterfinal match with Novak Djokovic. Like Federer, the top ranked Serb has his own agenda. He is pursuing his goal of holding four Grand Slam titles at the same time, a feat only accomplished by eight other players.
There is no question that Djokovic, the holder of 30-tour titles, is the world’s foremost player. However, Rafa Nadal has established himself as the most dominant clay courter in the history of the game. Nadal is pursuing his record seventh French Open Championship, a feat accomplished by no other player in the history of the game.
After crushing Tsonga in the first set and stilling a crowd that was ready to explode, Djokovic showed all the aggression that was missing in his round of 16 triumph against Andres Seppi, when he found himself on the wrong side of the first two sets. Indeed, the Serb had just one unforced error in set one. The crowd could only envision another quick sweep by the flawless Djokovic who has had difficulty with Tsonga in the past.
Tsonga gave himself a good tongue lashing between sets and when he took the court for the second set, he began to rally the fans. Tsonga was playing to become the first Frenchman to top a world number one at Roland Garros since 1983 when Christophe Roger-Vassel downed Jimmy Connors in the quarters. Jo Willy was also playing to become France’s first home nation semifinalist at Roland Garros since 2008 when Gael Monfils accomplished the feat.
Both players played beyond expectations. After squaring the match at one set apiece, a confident Tsonga began to carry the play. The players exchanged breaks early but Tsonga served a gutsy 11th game fending off three break points before holding. With a tiebreaker looming, Tsonga pushed harder. His cross court forehands kept Djokovic deep behind the baseline and Djokovic finally cracked with the crowd roaring support for their man.
Down 2 sets to one, Tsonga started the fourth set fast, continuing to challenge Djokovic’s serve and blistering his own serves. Yet, the tenacious Djokovic pressed on. He had three break opportunities in the fifth game of the fourth set, but Tsonga rose to the occasion further rousing a very vocal crowd. With Djoko serving at 4-5, Tsonga raced to a 15-40 advantage and two match points. Rather than wait for a strategic play, Tsonga tried to capitalize on the crowd’s energy and took unnecessary risks. Djokovic rallied back. Again in the 12th game, Novak displayed the courage that a world number one has. He fought of another two match points in a driving rain. Disappointed, Tsonga had every reason to self-destruct. Not this time. Trailing 4-6 in the tiebreaker, Tsonga leveled the game. Djokovic played two spectacular points and claimed the fourth set 7-6 (6).
As predicted by John McEnroe, Tsonga had laid it all on the table. He had neither the stamina nor the ability to mount one more challenge. Djokovic cruised to a 6-1 fifth set triumph, his 26th straight Grand Slam win, and setup a semifinal pairing with Federer.
Tsonga played beautifully. This was not a pretty match. It was power clay court tennis as it is rarely played. The edge went to Djokovic whose brave shot-making came through when needed most.
Despite Djokovic’s recent successes, Federer leads the matchup with 14 wins to Djokovic’s 11.
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