June 2, 2016
Novak Djokovic overcame Tomas Berdych in straight sets and controversial circumstances at Roland Garros.
Meanwhile Serena Williams was involved in a surprising battle for survival against the unseeded Kazakh, Yulia Putintseva. Serena prevailed – but only just.
She will now play Kiki Bertens, the Dutch star who beat Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-2.
Of the two world number ones, it was Serena who expended by far the most nervous energy – and she was even in tears towards the end of a roller-coaster second set.
Williams lost the first set 5-7 and was a break down at the start of the second. It looked as though the weight of expectation was about to prove her undoing once more.
But Williams finally found a more relaxed rhythm to go with her power and led 4-1. Suddenly it started to fall apart again for the favourite and she had to save two break points at 4-4. Putintseva would have been serving for the match.
Despite some more tricky moments, Serena was able to win the second set 6-4 on a Putintseva double fault. And in the final set, the underdog seemed to lose self-belief as Williams cruised to a decisive 6-1 victory. The winner still needed four match points to seal the deal, though.
And the relief was palpable when she said of her 21-year-old opponent afterwards:’She played unbelievable and I honestly didn’t think I was going to win that second set but somehow I did and I’m so excited.’
Novak’s win was more straightforward but certainly not without incident. His 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 triumph over Berdych, the powerful Czech, was more rain-interrupted than Berdych or the crowd would have liked. Novak got the blame for that.
But Djokovic generally had things his own way and now he will face Dominic Thiem, who staged a big fight-back to defeat David Goffin 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-1.
In doing so Thiem reached his first Grand Slam semi-final, though Djokovic will feel confident of victory and will soon put his quarter-final tribulations behind him.
At one stage Novak was even booed by the crowd on Philippe Chatrier for having left the court so readily. But he was soon forgiven, as he involved a ball boy in his post-match celebrations and saluted all sides of the arena.
The occasion hadn’t exactly been sweet-tempered. The players had been involved in a difference of opinion on whether or not to play on in light rain, during the third set.
Djokovic was in no mood to debate the issue, having complained more than once about the dangers of the wet clay, and walked straight off the court.
Berdych was left to remonstrate with the umpire and was heard to say: ‘What are we waiting for? Either we cover the court or we go on.’
But by then Novak was back in the locker room, even though the other quarter-final was still being played next door.
It was frustrating for Berdych, who had sensed a shift in momentum as he had begun to threaten in the third set.
Perhaps predictably, Djokovic returned to the court soon aftterwards, got ruthless when it mattered and closed out the match in 2 hours and six minutes, which shouldn’t have drained his energy resources unduly.
Earlier in that eventful third set, Djokovic had thrown his racquet backwards in disgust at a fluffed shot and almost hit a line judge. Had he accidentally hurt anyone, he could even have been disqualified. As it was, he quickly held up a hand in apology and escaped censure.
Novak had played some excellent tennis during the first set and also to break at the start of the second. Then he lost his drop-shot touch for a while – and that second set was suddenly in the balance. But Djokovic was a deserved winner in the end, despite the tensions surrounding the match.
He reflected later:’I was trying to mix up the pace and I played well for a set-and-a-half. Then I had a big game at 6-5. I’m just glad to finish the job in three sets because it was tough out there for both players.’
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