Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

French Open: Djokovic in comeback as Azarenka crashes out

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 03: Novak Djokovic of Serbia is congratulated by Andreas Seppi of Italy after their men's singles fourth round match during day 8 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 3, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

There was a time midway through yesterday afternoon when the nerves of the ticket touts who patrol the Avenue de la Porte d'Auteuil must have been as tight as the strings on Roger Federer's racket.

The men's No 1, Novak Djokovic, who is attempting to become the first man for 43 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles, had lost the first two sets to Andreas Seppi. Victoria Azarenka, his female counterpart, had lost in straight sets to Dominika Cibulkova. Even Federer, who remains the biggest international draw for the Parisian public, had lost the first set to a fresh-faced Belgian who is so little known that he does not even have a clothing sponsor.



By the end of the day, however, the touts were no doubt celebrating over une bière pression or three as Djokovic and Federer survived to fight another day. Djokovic, who had been outplayed for the best part of two hours, beat Seppi 4-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, and Federer recovered to beat David Goffin relatively comfortably 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.



While the Roland Garros crowd love Federer for all his style and elegance, in Goffin they found a different type of hero. The 21-year-old Belgian, who looks like he has just come out of his school PE lesson, first came to the notice of the British public with his performances in the Davis Cup in Glasgow two months ago, but here he reached a whole new level.



Having lost in the final round of qualifying, Goffin earned his place in the main draw after the withdrawal of Gaël Monfils and became the first "lucky loser" to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for 17 years. Playing Federer, whose photos adorned his bedroom wall when he was growing up, put Goffin in dreamland.



What he lacks in power the world No 109 more than makes up for with the invention and boldness of his play. When Goffin hit a big forehand winner down the line to take the first set the upset to crown all upsets seemed a possibility, but after going within two points of losing the second set Federer took charge. Goffin, enjoying support from both the locals and a large contingent of noisy Belgians, still had his moments and bowed to three sides of Court Suzanne Lenglen after winning one stunning point.



The two men were interviewed together on court afterwards, with a faintly embarrassed Goffin admitting that Federer had been his boyhood hero. Federer was asked if he had any advice for him. "Go and have a rest," the Swiss said with a smile.



Federer, who preserved his record of never losing to a player born in the 1990s, is through to his 32nd successive Grand Slam quarter-final, an extraordinary achievement. Only five other men – Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Tomas Berdych and Albert Montanes – have played in the last 32 Grand Slam events, let alone enjoyed such success.



Meanwhile suspicions that the pressure is beginning to tell on Djokovic were underlined by the world No 1's patchy performance. He made 77 unforced errors, compared with 45 winners, in toiling over four and a quarter hours to beat 28-year-old Seppi. The Italian, who last month reached a career-high No 25 in the world rankings, is in the form of his life and for two sets repeatedly outmanoeuvred Djokovic with some cleverly constructed points.



Djokovic dug in, however, and Seppi's resistance was finally broken when he served a double fault when trailing 3-2 in the final set. "It was one of those days where you feel nothing is working," Djokovic said afterwards. "I served well, but aside from that I couldn't get into any rhythm. I was fighting, though, and I think because of that I won the match."



While all the major contenders for the men's title remain on course, the women's competition has been littered by fallen idols. With Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova (beaten by Sara Errani yesterday) and Francesca Schiavone all out, Li Na, the defending champion, is the only former winner still standing.



From the moment Azarenka trailed by a set and 4-0 in the first round here she might have sensed she was not going to add the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen to the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup she won in Melbourne in January. Her 6-2, 7-6 defeat to Cibulkova will cost her the world No 1 ranking if Maria Sharapova reaches the final.



A 6ft tall Azarenka towered over the 5ft 3in Slovakian, who is the shortest player in the world's top 100. Azarenka had won seven of their eight previous meetings, but Cibulkova played the better tennis throughout. The world No 16 fell on her back in celebration after winning the tie-break 7-4 with a backhand cross-court winner after drawing Azarenka into the net with a drop shot.



When asked afterwards what had gone wrong, a tetchy Azarenka said: "Pretty much everything." What would she do to recover from the defeat? "I'm going to kill myself," the world No 1 said with heavy sarcasm before adding she planned to take a break from tennis before Wimbledon.



Venus Williams looks to have secured her place in the Olympic Games following Sloane Stephens' defeat by Sam Stosur last night. Each country is allowed to send four singles players to the Games and Stephens would have overtaken Williams as the US No 4 if she had won.

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