ROLAND GARROS 2012
Djokovic Saves 4 M.P. To Beat Tsonga
by James Buddell|
Top seed Novak Djokovic extinguished French title hopes for another year at Roland Garros on Tuesday by saving four match points to knock out fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-1 in four hours and five minutes.
"As a tennis player, this is what you live for," said Djokovic. "This is what you practise for all these years, to be part of an incredible performance, incredible match encounter here in Roland Garros with the home players. I'm really glad that I could win today."
The Serbian advanced to his eighth straight Grand Slam championship semi-final and he is currently on a 26-match winning streak at the majors. He is now 30-7 lifetime at Roland Garros.
Djokovic will next meet third-seeded Swiss Roger Federer, the 2009 titlist. Djokovic trails Federer 11-14 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including a loss in the Roland Garros semi-finals in 2011 - a match that ended his perfect 41-0 start to the season.
"Last year we were part of a great match that went the distance, and he played incredibly well," said Djokovic. "I thought I played on a very high level. I just hope we can have another good match for us and for the crowd to be a part of."
The 25-year-old Djokovic is bidding to clinch his fourth straight major championship title and complete a non-calendar year Grand Slam. Only Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962, 1969) have held all four titles at the same time.
Djokovic made just one unforced error in winning the first set and taking a 3-1 lead, but Tsonga fought back to level the score at 4-4 in the second set. Djokovic saved two set points at 5-6, 15/40, but on Tsonga's third opportunity Djokovic hit a forehand long to level the match at one-set all.
The pair exchanged service breaks early in the third set, which looked destined for a tie-break, before Tsonga broke Djokovic's serve to take it 7-5. Tsonga fended off three break points in the fifth game of the fourth set but could not convert two match point opportunities with Djokovic serving at 4-5, 15/40. Djokovic showed tremendous mental strength in the 12th game by saving two more match points.
"It's, I guess, trying to be mentally tough and believing in your shots," said Djokovic of his ability to fight off four match points. "Obviously a little bit of experience that I had playing on this level for last five, six years. I did have some matches similar to this one when I was match points down and managing to come back."
In the tie-break, Djokovic could not convert two set points at 6-4, but was soon rewarded. With both men clearly exhausted in the deciding set, Djokovic managed to break twice and served out for his 30th Roland Garros match win. The 25 year old is now 17-5 in matches decided in the fifth set. Tsonga left Court Philippe Chatrier to a standing ovation.
"This is probably the most difficult defeat or loss in my career," said the Frenchman. "I haven't lost that many matches after such a big fight... It's very rare for me to have match points and not win the match, so I [will] remember that because it was Roland Garros; it was a quarter-final."
The 27-year-old Tsonga committed 61 unforced errors and won 90 of his 156 service points. Five-time major champion Djokovic won 63 per cent of points when he was serving at 30/30 or deuce. He hit 44 winners and seven aces.
During the spring European clay-court swing, Djokovic finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. Seven of his 30 tour-level titles have been won on clay courts.
Tsonga was attempting to become the first Frenchman to beat a World No. 1 at Roland Garros since 1983, when Christophe Roger-Vasselin - father of Edouard Roger-Vasselin - defeated Jimmy Connors in the quarter-finals. He was also bidding to become the first Frenchman to reach the semi-finals since Gael Monfils in 2008.
"It's a bit of a shame because I was pretty close," admitted Tsonga. "I'm not going to regret many things in that match. I gave everything I had. I fought as much as I could. Unfortunately at the end I had no energy left in my legs. That's it. That's the way it is.
"I'll have to close that chapter and start practising on grass. I'll try and remember this match and this loss so I have more confidence in tournaments like Wimbledon. Because if I can hurt top players on clay, I can do worse on grass."