Djokovic remains man to beat in Day 7

Djokovic remains man to beat in Day 7

Published May. 28, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

A pattern is starting to emerge at the French Open and, unhappily, no Americans are woven into the fabric. Mardy Fish and Vania King both lost in straight sets but they were not alone in getting wiped out on the red clay of Roland Garros.

Players adapting to the Babolat balls and seizing their chances swept into the fourth round with unusual ease, headed by Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and a wounded Andy Murray who twisted his ankle badly in the second set against German Michael Berrer and, from then on, virtually stood there swatting balls and winning 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

And in that interrupted match between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, it was the undefeated Serb who came through yet again, picking up from one set all overnight to win 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2. Djokovic, who is turning into the consummate professional, did not complain about the previous day’s scheduling which had him playing far too late, even though he will have had less rest when he meets Richard Gasquet on Sunday.

“Juan Martin and I didn’t have too many long rallies, and I think I will be fresh tomorrow,” said the man who has drawn alongside John McEnroe with 42 consecutive victories.


The break in the match probably hurt del Potro because the momentum had been with him the previous evening. But on the resumption, it was Djokovic who looked more focused and began hitting a cleaner ball.

“There wasn’t a consistency, I think, in both of us,” Djokovic said. “I was managing to control my game a little bit better today than I did yesterday. I think that made the difference.”

But if Djokovic remains the man to beat, Nadal is starting to look more than his real self although he was never really tested by the Croatian newcomer Antonio Veic, whom Nadal walloped 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. Nadal might find life a little bit tougher when he comes up against another, far more experienced Croatian, Ivan Ljubicic, in the next round.

These balls, which fly and kick a little, suit Ljubicic with his huge serve and crunching forehand, and he scored a surprisingly easy victory over another Spanish left hander Fernando Verdasco as the sun started to set on yet another lovely day. Ljubicic, who was a semi-finalist here in 2006, won impressively 6-3, 7-6, 6-4.

Fish was trounced on the Philippe Chatrier Center Court 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 by that swift Frenchman Gilles Simon, who was ranked as high as No. 6 in the world a couple of years ago.

“Gilles is one of the quickest guys on the tour, and he moves so well on this stuff,” said Fish, after he had been hit by a stream of forehand winners. “I just couldn’t find a way to get to him.”

Fish bounced his racket in frustration midway through the third set and was warned for racket abuse by an umpire who insisted he had split the racket. Fish then engaged the official in a running argument over two changeovers which achieved nothing except to get the umpire to change his opinion over exactly what infringement of the rules had incurred. When Fish tried to get him to examine the racket, the umpire said he had caused an indentation on the court.

“What, more than the balls do?” Fish shot back.

“It was silly,” he admitted afterwards. “I should never have got into it.”

King was equally frustrated by the pace and power of her opponent, the Czech Petra Kvitova who won 6-4, 6-2.

“I went in a bit nervous,” King admitted. “I was expecting a big game and she was playing really fast. And sometimes when you are nervous, the ball comes faster than you think it will.”

It wasn’t just nerves that made Kvitova’s huge ground strokes look fast. They were fast and there are some experts who are beginning to believe we are looking at a future Wimbledon champion here because grass should suit her game so well. In the meantime she is doing pretty well on clay and China’s Na Li, who beat Sorana Cirstea of Romania, will have a tough time taming all that power in the next round.

King, however, is remaining positive.

“It’s disappointing to lose, but I think I’ve played a lot of good tennis this week,” she said. “I have a French coach and have been working at Tarik Benhabiles’ Academy in Florida for two-and-a-half years. I used to hate clay, but at the Academy it is only clay. I think a lot of Americans don’t think they can play on clay, and they don’t train in the direction to improve on clay. But every time I went home I had to practice on clay, and that’s why I have improved so much on it.”

King’s view about the surface only backs up Patrick McEnroe’s decision to emphasize clay court play for American juniors and to try and move the Orange Bowl Junior Championships back onto the surface after more than decade on hard courts.

Sharapova wasted little time with Taipei’s Yung-Jan Chan on Chatrier and got a slightly warmer reception than she had after fighting back to beat the French hope, Caroline Garcia, two days before. Sharapova will now play another dark horse who is starting to hit her straps, Agnieszka Radwanska, the Polish No. 12 seed, who outwitted the tall Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 6-4, 6-4.

But it is the Belarussian, Victoria Azarenka, who continues to impress the most. The world’s fourth ranked player was in commanding form as she overwhelmed Italy’s Roberta Vinci 6-3, 6-2.

Robin Soderling was last match on court and the Swede joined those contenders who found the third round an easy hurdle. The No. 5 seed who has been a finalist here for the past two years outhit Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. Now he faces Simon.


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