Darkness halts Djokovic-del Potro match
On day when Roger Federer made it look easy — and when Frenchmen Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet came through but Jo Wilfried Tsonga faltered before the home crowd — the biggest news came not from Philippe Chatrier center court, but from a match whose result has yet to be determined.
Relegated to Suzanne Lenglen Stadium late on a gray, chilly evening because of some less-than-clever scheduling, the match between Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic inevitably was suspended thanks to darkness, del Potro having taken the second set 6-3 after Djokovic did the same in the first.
It was 9:15 local time and the light was fading. Even before the referee came on court, del Potro had looked across at Djokovic as they sat down and nodded, saying, "We stop, OK?"
It was the only sensible thing to do because another set would never have been completed. This fascinating duel will now be slotted into Saturday's schedule and, in essence, it will become a best-of-three match, which is not the same thing.
Del Potro, the former US Open champion, started a little tentatively — hardly surprising considering he knew how big a chance this was for him to re-establish his credentials as a player capable of beating the best. Returning after wrist surgery, the tall Argentine has started to look more and more like his old self in recent weeks and, with these new rock-hard tennis balls, he possesses the game to disturb the Serb's equally rock-solid confidence.
The first set went to Djokovic, who pounded ground strokes in his usual style. But del Potro can hit as hard, if not harder, and scored with an early break to leave himself serving for the set at 5-3.
But he overplayed a forehand and missed going cross court, and Djokovic, at 15-40, had two break-back points. The Argentine reply? Two aces, both of which hit the line.
So there is much to play for and Djokovic, even with 41 consecutive victories under his belt, will not be happy at the thought of having to win two sets against this formidable opponent.
The match had to be switched because Tsonga led Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland by two sets and 4-1 in the second and then lost the plot, ensuring that the match continued for a total of 4 hours and 3 mins. Despite the vociferous support he received from a 15,000-strong crowd, the big Frenchman could not prevent Wawrinka from grinding his way back into the match with deep returns and solid serving. After losing the third set tie break, Tsonga tired and his last-gasp effort recovering what he had lost — saving two match points when the Swiss served for it — was too late a gesture to prevent a disappointing defeat (4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-3).
Federer, who will now play his countryman in the next round Sunday, outclassed Janko Tipsarevic, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
Despite Tsonga's frustrating loss, the French still have two contenders ready to battle on. Monfils beat the Belgian, Steve Darcis, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, despite raucous support from Darcis' fans from over the border. And Gasquet gave further evidence of a return to form by beating the talented Brazilian left-hander Thomaz Bellucci in a delightfully played encounter (6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3).