A fascinating day at Roland Garros as the French Open progressed through its fourth day with just one casualty of any significance falling in what was quite a frenetic Wednesday.
Novak Djokovic’s second appearance attracted a lot of attention and he still lacks some of that aggression and focus which he had when dominating the game before his injury lay-off, but he managed to get through a tough opponent in Jaume Munar, a protégé of Rafa Nadal, 7-6(1) 6-4 6-4.
My tennis is not at the level that I would like it to be, but the tournament is just starting for me and it’s not easy,” Djokovic added. “All the best players in the world are here. I’m doing my best. Novak Djokovic
The young Spaniard hung right in with experienced Serbian breaking him three times. Regrettably he wasn’t able to hold his own at critical moments, losing it five times to give the 20th seed the edge.
“Jaume is a great player, he has lots of quality and good concentration. I congratulate him on a great match today,” Djokovic said after his win.
Djokovic let slip an early lead in the opening set but played a good tie-break. The second and third sets were also close, but Djokovic went on to complete his victory in two hours and 18 minutes.
“He’s a young man with a lot of qualities, a lot of intensity,” Djokovic said afterwards when asked about Munar. “He focuses very well for a player of his age.”
Although Djokovic is by no means playing at his former level, there are signs that his form is picking up. The world No 22 reached the semi-finals in Rome in his last tournament before Roland Garros and has yet to drop a set in Paris.
“My tennis is not at the level that I would like it to be, but the tournament is just starting for me and it’s not easy,” Djokovic added. “All the best players in the world are here. I’m doing my best.”
The former champion concluded: “Credit to him for fighting and playing well. I went through my ups and downs, and [I’m] not really satisfied with the performance. I just played [well] enough in the right moments to win the match. So hopefully my level will increase and will get better in the next match.”
And that will be against Roberto Bautista Agut when he can certainly expect a tougher ride when they meet on Friday.
Djokovic wasn’t the only player to struggle despite going through in straight sets.
At various stages in the afternoon, the likes of Alexander Zverev, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov came close to being shown the exit at this early stage of the championships, all surviving five set thrillers.
Zverev, the tournament’s second favourite for the title who is bidding to become the first German to claim the title in Paris since 1937, has had his ups and downs this season but has found his clay-court form by winning in Munich and Madrid and reaching the Rome final, eventually outclassed Dusan Lajovic in the last two sets to win it 2-6 7-5 4-6 6-1 6-2 for his first 5-set win on clay.
“This is important, because I’m still in the tournament – so I have a chance to still play here,” said Zverev. “Obviously Dusan, at the moment and during the clay-court season, he’s [been] playing unbelievable. I knew it was not going to be an easy match. I didn’t play my best the first three sets, I thought. Once I found my range and rhythm, I felt good out there.
“I’m very happy to be here with a five-set win, somebody who has beaten great opponents during the clay court season. Obviously, it was not my best. I know that. There are still a few things I need to work on. Actually, in the fourth and fifth sets, I really felt good out there even though I was a little bit tired and a little bit fatigued. My serve started working better. I started playing from the baseline much better.”
The 21-year-old next plays Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur, the 26th seed, for a place in the last 16.
In turn Nishikori had to overcome Benoit Paire and the fanatical French crowd. Paire certainly had the better of Nishikori early, but Kei wore Paire down in the end for a 6-3 2-6 4-6 6-2 6-3 victory.
The 19th seed, playing his first Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon last year after struggling with a wrist injury, finally got the better of world No.51 Paire in a dramatic fifth set which saw three consecutive breaks of serve before Nishikori saved four break points to serve it out.
“It was a very difficult match, he played a really good second and third sets,” the 28-year-old from Japan said. “I changed some things and played good in the last two sets.”
The former US Open finalist, who has reached the last eight twice in Paris, will next face Frenchman Gilles Simon who put out American 12th seed Sam Querrey for a place in the second week.
Dimitrov, who has had his moments in Paris, had his hands full as he faced an aggressive and combative Jared Donaldson, but thanks to some cramping at the finish line from the American, the Hungarian survived 6-7(2) 6-4 4-6 6-4 10-8 after four hours 20-minutes.
In order to combat his cramping, Donaldson had to resort to serving underarm on two occasions towards the end of the match, with mixed success, winning one point and losing another.
“It’s great to win a match in five sets. I think it stays with you, you keep it, and especially on clay and out here,” Dimitrov said. “It was one of those matches that I didn’t play my best, but I managed a way to win. And when one thing wasn’t going well, the physical part was great.”
Dimitrov will next face the dangerous Spaniard Fernando Verdasco as he looks to reach the fourth round in Paris for the first time.
Meanwhile, Marco Trungelliti’s epic French Open journey came to an end in the second round as he lost 6-1 7-6 6-1 to Marco Cecchinato..
The Argentinian became the unlikely darling of Roland Garros after driving for 10 hours from Barcelona to Paris, with his brother, mother and gran in tow on Sunday in order to register in time as a lucky loser. He then went on to stun Bernard Tomic and earn himself $90,000!
The 28-year-old Argentine was philosophical afterwards. “I wasn’t good,” he told reporters. “He played much better than me. I was a bit tired physically and mentally.”
Trungelliti had three set points on Cecchinato’s serve in the second set but couldn’t hang on, taking the wind out of him for the third set: “In five minutes, I was down 4-0,” Trungelliti said.
Trungelliti was amazed by the interest in involvement. “It was different,” he said. “It’s the first time I lost and have 20 [reporters] here. Usually once you lose, you have nobody here. I enjoyed it. I never did an hour and a half of press conference like Roger [Federer] and those guys are doing every day!”
Three first round matches suspended overnight by bad light, were decided with Jeremy Chardy causing a major upset by ousting the 17th seeded Tomas Berdych. It ended with a delighted Chardy hailing the partisan crowd following his 7-6(5) 7-6(8) 1-6 5-7 6-2 victory.
“At two sets all, it was difficult in my head, and physically, too,” the Frenchman said afterwards. “I fought hard. All my body was shaking.”
In addition to other Frenchmen kept their hopes alive, namely Julien Benneteau and Pierre-Hugues Herbert who defeated Peter Polansky.
As on Tuesday, bad light prevented the completion of two second round matches and play was suspended at 9.42pm local tie. They involved Dominic Thiem who is locked in a tough battle with Stefanos Tsitsipas who leads the Greek by two set to one lead, and Lucas Pouille who was broken in the last game of the third set by Cameron Norrie who trails two sets to one as well.
Thursday sees Rafael Nadal return against Guido Pella while Juan Martin del Potro faces Benneteau Other big names in action include John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Marin Cilic and the exciting Denis Shapovalov.