TENNIS / World No. 1 survives four match-points to beat Tsonga; the latter rallies past del Potro
Novak Djokovic kept alive his Grand Slam hopes Roland Garros on Tuesday, saving four match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before pulling off a nail-biting 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-1 quarterfinal win.
Djokovic's next opponent is Roger Federer, who bounced back from a two-set deficit to beat Juan-Martin del Potro 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3. It will be a rematch of their semifinal here last year when Federer ended the Serb's 43-match winning streak.
After his triumphs in London, New York and Melbourne, the Serb is bidding to become just the third man to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time and the first in 43 years.
The win over Tsonga makes it 26 straight match victories in Grand Slams for Djokovic, but seldom has he been run so ragged as he was at times by the powerful Frenchman, who had let slip four match points in the fourth set.
The defeat meant Tsonga's dream of becoming the first Frenchman to win at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah in 1983 had been cruelly shattered.
“He was the better player for most of the match and I was fortunate to come back from four match points down. It was an incredible match,” said Djokovic.
Tsonga said: “I did what I said I would and gave everything. I came close and I would have loved to have won.”
The World No.1 took control of the match early on breaking in the fourth and sixth games to pocket the first set in under 21 minutes with disquieting ease and then moved 2-0 up in the second as the sun clouded over and the cold, overcast conditions returned.
Egged on by the crowd, Tsonga started going for his shots and making the top seed scurry from side to side.
The Frenchman broke Djokovic to level at 4-4, and Djokovic suddenly found himself under big pressure on serve at 5-6 and 15-40 down.
He saved the two set points to get to deuce, but eventually hit long to give Tsonga the set.
Djokovic broke early in the third to go 2-1 up but a rash of unforced errors allowed Tsonga to run off four points in a row on Djokovic's serve to level at 2-2.
Once again a tie-break loomed and once again Tsonga opened his shoulders to blast a way past the Djokovic defensive wall and give himself a two sets to one lead.
The fourth set was tight all the way, and Tsonga had two match points, with Djokovic serving at 4-5, and again on the Serb's serve at 5-6 only for Djokovic to hold firm.
Djokovic trailed 2-4 in the tie-break, but with Tsonga looking increasingly tight, the top seed clawed his way back and forced a fifth set on his third set point.
Once it went into the fifth set after the World No.1 won a tight tie-break, it was one-way traffic all the way.
Federer equals record
Federer victory over del Potro meant he reached a record-equalling 31st Grand Slam semifinal.
It was cruel luck on the 1.98m del Potro who had looked on course for a straight sets win after unleashing a brutal wave of power-hitting off both wings which left Federer floundering in the first two sets.
However, his hopes were finally sabotaged by a recurrence of the knee injury which has plagued him in Paris and which left him struggling to move by the end of the match.
“I knew Juan Martin's knee was bothering him and was trying to finish the rallies quickly,” said Federer, who has pulled level with Jimmy Connors's mark of 31 Grand Slam semifinals.
“I knew it would be a big fight today. I played well tactically and was strong mentally because there wasn't a lot in it.”
“I played a great match, but in the third and fourth sets, he started to play a lot better than he did at the beginning,” said del Potro, who insisted his knee was not a problem.
“I called the trainer to have the tape loosened on my knee, but there was no problem. I just served really badly in the fourth set and you won't get many points against the top guys if you do that. He took his opportunities and won.”
Stosur in semifinals
Earlier, sixth seed Samantha Stosur powered past No.15 Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-1 while 21st seed Sara Errani saw off Angelique Kerber 6-3, 7-6(2) in the women's quarterfinals.
Fifth seeds Leander Paes and Elena Vesnina entered the mixed doubles semifinals upsetting top-seeded Max Mirnyi and Liesel Huber 4-6, 7-5, 10-5.
Keywords: French Open