Four times, Novak Djokovic was a point away from the end of his quest to become the first man in 43 years to hold all four tennis Grand Slam titles at once. On each occasion, he found a way to keep his bid alive.
Djokovic saved four match points in the fourth set and went on to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a French Open quarterfinal played in drizzle on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris.
The 25-year-old Serb advanced to play 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the semifinals. Federer, 30, had to overcome a two-set deficit yesterday.
“There is really not any rational explanation or a word that can describe what you’re supposed to do when you’re match points down,” Djokovic told reporters. “Obviously a little bit of experience that I had playing on this level for last five, six years helps.”
In the women’s quarterfinals yesterday, reigning U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur of Australia beat Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova to set up a semifinal against Sara Errani. The Italian reached the last four at a major for the first time by defeating Angelique Kerber, the No. 10 seed from Germany.
Today at Roland Garros, Maria Sharapova of Russia plays Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi and Czech Petra Kvitova faces Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan for a place in the women’s semifinals. Six-time champion Rafael Nadal meets fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in the men’s quarterfinals, while Britain’s Andy Murray faces Spain’s David Ferrer.
Djokovic, who is trying to become the first man since Australian Rod Laver in 1969 to win the four majors in a row, won 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 against Tsonga, the fifth seed from France.
Serving in the fourth set, Djokovic saved two match points at 4-5 with a forehand volley and a forehand cross-court winner. He saved two more match points at 5-6 down as Tsonga netted a forehand and Djokovic hit a smash.
“I’m just going for the shots,” Djokovic, the reigning Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Australian Open champion, said in a news conference. “I’m glad I was aggressive in these moments, and it paid back for me.”
Djokovic also came back from the brink on the way to his first U.S. Open championship last year, saving two match points in the semifinals against Federer.
Tsonga held his head in his hands after Djokovic finished off the match with a backhand winner.
“You want to break your racket, you want to shout, you want to cry,” Tsonga told reporters. “You want to laugh and say, ‘Oh, come on, that’s a joke. How could I lose this match?’”
Although Djokovic said he needed a rest after his second consecutive five-set match, he enjoyed the comeback.
“As a tennis player, this is what you live for,” he said. “This is what you practice for all these years.”
At the same time on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second show court at Roland Garros, the third-seeded Federer of Switzerland overcame a two-set deficit in a 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 defeat of Juan Martin Del Potro, the ninth seed from Argentina,
The 6-foot-6 Del Potro won the first two sets by putting Federer under pressure from the baseline with flat ground strokes. The momentum shifted in the third set after Del Potro double faulted in his opening service game to hand Federer the break of serve. Federer said he took time to work out a way past Del Potro.
“Do you try to serve through him? Which I tried; didn’t work,” Federer told reporters. “Or do I try and move it around a bit? And that worked a bit better, but it was really in the mixup that I found success.”
It was the first time Federer had come back from two sets down since the first round of Wimbledon in 2010, and raised his five-set record to 19-16.
Federer’s match ended about the time Djokovic was forcing the fourth-set tiebreaker. Federer tied Jimmy Connors for the most Grand Slam semifinal spots with 31.
Federer, who won the French Open in 2009, plays Djokovic in the semifinals for the second straight year. Federer’s defeat of the Serb 12 months ago ended Djokovic’s perfect start to 2011 and was his last defeat in a Grand Slam match. He’s since won 26 in a row.
“We’ll see how fit he is,” Federer said of Djokovic. “I know I have to play a great match.”