In taking on 24-year-old Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, he now had the chance to achieve another first: He could reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
On paper, too, his chances could have been a lot worse. The 43-ranked Carreno Busta had taken out the seed in this segment, Federico Delbonis, in four long sets. But he had good clay credentials this season: the finals of Sao Paulo and Estoril, and wins over the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Gilles Simon and Benoit Paire. In contrast Bedene’s best result was a semi run at the start of the year on the hard courts of Chennai, plus a hard-court Challenger in March.
It was not just a first third-round run for both men at stake, though: The winner, more likely than not, would next play world No1 Novak Djokovic.
Bedene had only had the pleasure of that match-up once before, at last year’s Australian Open. It was, perhaps not surprisingly, a straight sets win for the Serb, but at the time, Bedene was ranked at just 116. By last year’s French Open, the Briton had broken the top 80, and by the end of July, the top 70. By the end of the year, he was at a career high 45.
This season, niggling injuries had not done his cause much good—first to his leg, then his wrist—and nor had the extended delays to the ITF hearings that would determine whether he could play for the British Davis Cup team. It was announced that he could not, despite gaining his British passport a year before.
So it had been a frustrating season after a very promising one, and a victory in Paris would be a real boost to his confidence and ranking, even if the chances of advancing further were slim.
Bedene started well to pull back an opening break with a run of three love games. He dug deep to hold off five break points with his sixth ace for 4-3, and the two men edged to a tie-break. Again, Bedene served well to take a 5-0 lead. He netted a drop shot for 5-3 but then swept to the set, 7-6(3) in 51 minutes.
Bedene’s serving kept him on the front foot in the second set, too, as he cranked up his 13th ace and used the drop shot and net finishes to great effect. A terrific combination of drop, lob and forehand pass brought a timely break for 5-3 and the Briton served out the set, 6-3.
Now though, Carreno Busta showed what a dangerous clay player he can be. He responded strongly, and combined with a drop in level from Bedene’s serving, it was the Spaniard’s turn to shine and he broke in the third game. Although the Briton had a chance to break straight back, he failed to do so, and Carreno Busta served it out, 6-4.
The distractions on Court 6 were many and growing. Sirens blasted down the adjacent road, and there were riotous cheers from the next court. Along with that, the court’s stands grew packed as the queues to get in wound around the entrances. Next on court was young rising star Alexander Zverev and a Frenchman, and everyone wanted a piece of that. They had not banked on this match being worth the price of entrance alone.
The Spaniard again got off to a quick start with a break, but suddenly the Bedene forehand found its range again to break back to love for 3-3. They exchanged another break apiece and it looked as though Bedene might seal this in the fourth when he brought up two break points for a 6-5 lead. However, he could not convert, the Spaniard broke again, and he fought off two more break points to level the match, 7-5.
With two and three quarter hours of tennis played at a high pace, Carreno Busta needed a medical time out for treatment to his left thigh, and emerged for the final set strapped from knee to hip. Bedene, though, looked fresh, and rifled some big forehands to break in the sixth game, 4-2.
He finished with a flourish, too, holding with a forehand at the net for 5-2 and breaking to love for the match, 6-2, after 3hrs 19mins.
For a man standing 6ft tall and weighing a slight 72kgs, Bedene’s were fine statistics. He hit 23 aces to one double fault, won 25 points from 38 at the net, and 69 winners altogether. No wonder the packed Court 6 rose to applaud his victory. And no wonder this quietly-spoken man roared in celebration: He was into the third round of a Major for the first time.
“The last few months haven’t been the best and I have been struggling but I’m really proud of what I have achieved so far,” said Bedene. “It meant a lot to win.
“I have only played one fifth set before – in Wimbledon last year, and I won it – and it wasn’t easy after being two love up but it shows I am fit enough and I am really proud.”
He would have to wait a while to confirm that he would indeed play Djokovic next, as the 32-year-old Belgian, Steve Darcis, ranked 161 in the world, kept the Serb busy through a long first set, though Djokovic took it 7-5.
No doubt Bedene was happy to wait.
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