Federer, Djokovic to play each other
At the very same instant that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was up, match point against Novak Djokovic on the Philippe Chatrier Center Court, Roger Federer had match point against Juan Martin del Potro over on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Sporting drama rarely comes with such exquisite timing.
In the end, Tsonga failed and Federer won, ensuring that Djokovic will play Federer, the man who ended his amazing run here last year, in the semifinals.
Federer needed to come back from two sets down to beat the physically ailing Argentine 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3. Meanwhile, Djokovic — amid near-hysteria as a crowd of 15,000 ignored the drizzle to cheer on France's Tsonga — had to save four match points in two different games of the fourth set before winning 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-1 in 4 hours, 9 minutes.
Djokovic, the world No 1, had not been expected to get himself in that kind of trouble against Tsonga, who does not regard himself as a clay-court player. He prefers hard courts and was a finalist at the Australian Open in 2008, where he also lost to Djokovic before beating the Serb in Melbourne two years later. Tsonga had never reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros before.
But, far from being crushed by the loss of the first set, Tsonga roared back into the fray with some explosively aggressive tennis that proved good enough to penetrate the notoriously impregnable Serbian defenses. Djokovic, who switched shoes three days before the tournament, hasn’t been moving as well as he can these past few days, and he was not always steady enough on his feet to deal with the powerful forehands and well-placed volleys that Tsonga delivered.
The drama started to hit a new pitch in the fourth set, when Tsonga found himself down a break point at 4-4. To his opponent’s disbelief, Tsonga came up with a huge first serve that hit the apex of the service line and sideline and then produced another ace to close out the game. Immediately, Djokovic had to deal with the first of two match points when he fell behind 15-40.
On the first match point, an all-court point had both men racing all over the vast spaces of the Center Court before Djokovic scored with a forehand volley. Then, a big first serve took care of the second match point.
Two games later, Tsonga was back at match point. This is the one that will wake him in the night. After pulling Djokovic wide, he hit a forehand into the net with the court at his mercy. Still, he kept coming and Djokovic had to get out of another match point with a smash.
The crowd sighed, but Tsonga fought on. He lost the first point of the tiebreaker on his serve, and Djokovic suddenly recovered the momentum to win it 8-6 despite Tsonga’s desperate effort to retrieve the situation from 4-6 down.
"I had no legs,” Tsonga admitted as the fifth set slipped away from him.
So Djokovic’s dream of holding all four Grand Slam tournament titles at one time — Rod Laver was the last man to achieve the feat, in 1969 — lives on.
"There’s no rational explanation as to why I play well on match points,” said Djokovic, who has saved two in consecutive years against Federer at the US Open. “I don’t want to be wise after the event and say I know how to play match points, but I suppose you need to be mentally tough, and that comes with experience.
"At this level, it is very mental, playing a top player in front of his home crowd. It is what we play for, what we practice for. And I am very happy that I was able to win.”
So was Federer, who kept alive his ambition of winning a 17th Grand Slam title and what would be his second at Roland Garros. At the outset, the heavy conditions favored del Potro, who seemed untroubled initially by the strapped left knee that was obviously hampering him earlier in the tournament.
“I’m still struggling for rhythm,” said Federer, who seemed to have plenty of it in the later stages. “It was tough to find variations with him hitting the ball so hard, and he played a great tiebreak.”
Asked if he thought del Potro was troubled by his knee, Federer shot back: “I was in trouble; he wasn’t. At two sets down, the margins weren’t on my side. I don’t know how his knee was. I was just trying to concentrate on my own game.”
After losing the second set, Federer whacked a ball that narrowly missed a ball boy, then let out a scream of frustration.
“These matches are emotional,” he said. “I was pushing hard, trying to get myself to try harder, run harder. You have to let it out occasionally.”
Breaking early in the third set was crucial for the Swiss, and he suddenly began sweeping forehand winners all over the court, as he does when the talent is flowing. Del Potro began to tire, and the outcome became a formality long before Federer had leveled at two sets all.
There were no former French Open champions left when the women’s quarterfinals started, so there was everything to play for. Australia’s Sam Stosur, the reigning US Open champion, and the previously unheralded little Italian Sara Errani took a big step forward by claiming straight-set victories.
Stosur dominated the hard-running Slovak Dominika Cibulkova, winning 6-4, 6-1, and Errani defeated the promising German Angelique Kerber 6-3, 7-6 (2).
Errani has risen rapidly in recent weeks after winning clay-court titles in Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest and credits much of her newfound success to a change of racket.
“It was a big change for me, really, the racket,” she said. “Makes me feel more power.”
She will need it against a confident Stosur, who was a finalist at Roland Garros in 2010, when she lost to another Italian, Francesca Schiavone.