French Open 2015: Freak schedule sees Djokovic, Murray grab big quarter-final spots

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both reach the quarter-finals of the French Open in Paris

The statistics were already quite staggering for four of the men—‘the big four’—who would all compete for a place in the Roland Garros quarter-finals on one single day in Paris.

This unusual scenario was caused by an alignment of factors rarely seen at a Major before.

The nine-time French champion Rafael Nadal, who had only lost one match in 66 played here, arrived with a lower ranking than at any time since he won his first Grand Slam here in 2005. Seeded No6, it meant he could be drawn into the same half as two of his biggest rivals—top four seeds Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych—and in the same quarter as one of them.

Luck determined that he would fall to world No1 Djokovic in the quarters and No3 Murray in the semis, and thus play his matches on the same day as both throughout the tournament.

World No2 Federer avoided his nemesis in the draw, and so played on alternate days to Nadal, but then the weather played its part. Federer’s Sunday match would begin late due to rain and be completed the following day—adding him into an extraordinary schedule with included Djokovic, Nadal and Murray.

And all four of them had extraordinary quarter-final runs to protect.

Nadal had only ever fallen short of the quarters at Roland Garros once—that single loss in 66, in 2009. He was bidding for his 10th in Paris, his 29th Grand Slam quarter-final overall.

Djokovic took on home favourite Richard Gasquet in an attempt to extend his run of successive Grand Slam quarter-finals to 24 and his ninth in Paris. Frenchman Gasquet was himself also bidding for a piece of history—not just his 400th match-win but a place in the French Open’s quarters for the first time at his 12th attempt.

Murray was aiming for his 17th straight Major quarter-final: Should he succeed, he could face David Ferrer, who was aiming to be fourth on the list Roland Garros quarter-finals—after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic—with six.

As in so many other Grand Slam statistics, though, it was Federer who led the way, both in Paris and across the board. He aimed for an Open-era record 11th last-eight finish at Roland Garros, which would extend his total to 44 Grand Slam quarters. He had, incidentally, notched up another record, 36 on the bounce, at this tournament in 2013.

So on this extraordinary day in Paris, how many would make it to that coveted quarter-final stage of the schedule? The short answer would be: all of them.

On paper, some had it easier than others. Andy Murray, who was enjoying a career-best clay run this year, 13-0, courtesy of two titles in Munich and Madrid, took on the 45-ranked Jeremy Chardy, who he had beaten only a fortnight ago in Rome, 6-4, 6-3.

And perhaps there would some edginess to their latest contest: a French crowd would undoubtedly lift the big-hitting Frenchman, and he made little secret of his disapproval of Murray pulling out in Rome with fatigue after beating him.

And it proved to be a closer, more compelling contest than the one in Rome, one that boasted a 15-minute hold of serve by Chardy, would have breaks and counter-breaks, and would take three hours before Murray extended his clay streak to 14, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Murray was as cool as a cucumber, despite the test: “Throughout the course of the match, I was creating many more opportunities than him. I wasn’t overly concerned. I just had to take my chances when they came. I did that in the third and fourth sets.”

He was also underwhelmed by his 17-quarter-final streak: “I’m playing against guys that make some of the things I have done look pretty average because of how good they have been. You know, Roger went through a period where he was making Grand Slam finals pretty much consistently and then he had the semi-final streak. Then obviously his [34] quarter-final streak: in comparison to that, it’s nothing…. But it’s something that I look at, and I’m very, very proud.”

And of course, Federer had just added to his own quarter-final tally: 44 and counting.

Djokovic, too, would take on a Frenchman and the crowd, but his 10-1 head-to-head record over Gasquet suggested that the Serb, who had won the Australian Open and four Masters titles this year, would not yet be halted in his attempt to claim a first French title.

It took him two hours in a rather tougher contest than the 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 scoreline suggested, to seal his 26th straight match-win and his ninth Roland Garros quarter-final.

It did, of course, also set up the biggest quarter-final match-up that the tournament has seen in many a year, a 44th meeting—and a repeat of last year’s final—against Nadal.

The Spaniard has beaten Djokovic six times at the French Open but the Serb won their most recent contest—on Monte-Carlo’s clay. As Nadal said after beating Jack Sock:

“The winner of that match will not be the Roland Garros champion, he will be in the semi-final.”

But it will feel every inch like a final showdown.

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