French Open 2011: Djokovic, Federer and Ferrer Impress
The headlines coming into day four of the French Open were all about one match and one man
Rafael Nadal’s first round match against John Isner always looked like an interesting opening challenge. Few, though, foresaw just how interesting.
“I thought I was close to going out,” confessed the Spaniard afterwards.
As Nadal was quick to acknowledge, this almost became only his second loss in the 40 matches he had played at Roland Garros.
It was, even so, the first time he had gone to five sets on the Paris clay -and he had lost only 10 sets in the previous 39 -and he required all his mental and physical resources to turn around the two-sets-to-one deficit for a 6-4 6-7 6-7 6-2 6-4 win.
In practice, Nadal faced only one break point, in the second set, but such was Isner’s serve quality that, once the second and third sets went to a tie-break, there was little room for manoeuvre for the defending champion. Indeed, Isner saved his fastest serve to take the third set with a 146mph whopper.
In the end, though, Isner offered up a few too many second serves to give Nadal an early toe-hold in the fourth set and then again in the third game of the fifth.
Despite a spirited fight from the American, he neatly summed up the closing performance of Nadal: “What it came down to was the way he played in the fourth and fifth sets. I haven’t ever seen tennis like that. That’s why he is No1.”
Gracious words from a man who now has another claim to fame apart from being part of the longest ever Grand Slam match -his 11-hour Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut. This one may have lasted only a fraction over four hours, but it resonated around the tennis airwaves.
Nadal continues to be unbeaten in the first round of any Grand Slam and no doubt spent much of his day off back on the practice courts.
Roland Garros on the morning after was still buzzing as Roger Federer arrived for the first match of the day to a half-empty Suzanne Lenglen. The French, it seemed, were recovering from Tuesday’s thrills with a leisurely coffee and croissant.
They had to fill their seats quickly to catch a world No3 in exhilarating form against French wild card, Maxime Teixeira, ranked 181 and with wins only in Futures and Challenger events until his first round victory over a fellow wild card at Roland Garros this week.
He rattled Federer’s cage early, using his match fitness on the red dirt in an all-court game of some style and variety. His drop shots, in particular, played a big part in pulling back an early deficit to level the opener 3-3.
Perhaps it was the early start, or the scheduling on Paris’s second court with its different playing conditions, or simply underestimating his opponent, but Federer’s early irascible mood was soon brought under control to break in the eighth game and serve out, 6-3.
He cranked up the quality in the second set to produce 13 winners -and that was in only six games. And the third brought little relief for the Frenchman, either. Federer had reeled off 13 straight games before Teixeira, arms held aloft in celebration, got on the scoreboard again, 1-4. He managed just one more game.
It was a nice moment from an imaginative talent who showed off Federer and his 33 outrights winners at their flamboyant best. But the Swiss now faces a far sterner test in the shape of Janko Tipsarevic, who lost still fewer games -four -to Pere Riba.
The Serb has troubled Federer before, almost beating him in an arduous five-setter in Australia in 2008 and, if Federer overcomes that obstacle, he faces either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Stan Wawrinka who both scored very convincing wins.
With most of the major players still in contention, this remains one of the toughest quarters in the men’s draw.
And talking of tough draws, Djokovic advanced to the third round match-up that everyone has been hoping for against Juan Martin Del Potro.
The Argentine’s defeat of Blaz Kavcic, 6-3 6-2 6-4, was not as straight forward as the score suggests -there were a few breaks of serve along the way -but Del Potro is gradually knocking the rust off his racket after so long out of the tour.
He won the Estoril title last month and he hit twice as many winners as his second round opponent in Paris: 34.
Del Potro will need to up his serve percentage -it was a mere 60 percent today -to really make inroads against Djokovic, but he will be happy with the fast playing conditions in Paris this year, and he seems to be moving well.
Djokovic, as seems the norm, passed yet another milestone with his second-round win, equalling the match-winning streak of 41 held by Federer and Bjorn Borg.
It was not the most satisfactory of wins: He was held level by Victor Hanescu until he managed to break in the ninth game and take the first set, 6-4. That opened the floodgates and he rushed to a 5-0 lead, serving out at 6-1.
With Hanescu twice needing the trainer, it was no surprise to see him retire at 3-2 in the third. Bug while Djokovic did not play with his regulation perfection in this truncated match, he still looked every inch the winner.
The Serb’s draw, though, now becomes much harder. Not only does he have Del Potro next but, thereafter, he may meet a Richard Gasquet who is still turning on the style. The Frenchman dropped a set to the 47th-ranked Marcel Granollers today but still fired 48 winners past the Spaniard.
Gasquet now faces one of the hot outsiders of the tournament, Thomaz Bellucci, a semifinalist on the clay of Acapulco and Madrid. He, like Gasquet, will be relishing the fast conditions in Paris -though with rain forecast by Friday, things may change by the time they meet.
Finally, a word of congratulations, on a day of few upsets, to David Ferrer who, by beating Julien Benneteau, reached 200 career clay-court wins.
The Spaniard continues the consistent, dogged progress that has come to typify his game. It’s hard to believe that he came close to retiring from the tour just a year ago before fighting his way back to a No7 ranking.
Ferrer seems now to be playing better than ever and must fancy his chances of reaching the semis at Roland Garros for the first time. One big problem remains: Federer looms on horizon, and Ferrer has yet to beat the Swiss in 11 attempts.