It finally happened. The top seeds – apart from Rafa Nadal – have come close to receiving their marching orders in the past few days but on Friday Grigor Dimitrov,
one of the title favourites, saw his hopes crushed by the veteran Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
The Hungarian fourth seed, who has never reached the fourth round at Roland Garros, had been pushed to five sets by American Jared Donaldson in the previous round, only coming through 10-8 in the fifth. He must have still been suffering the effects of that lengthy marathon for once he failed to convert four set points in the 12th game of the opener against Verdasco — and lost the ensuing tiebreak — his demeanour became dispirited.
This is something that really motivates me to help me train every day and to do the best and be in the best shape to be able to face these tournaments Fernando Verdasco
The aggressive left-handed Spaniard broke twice in the second set and although he allowed Dimitrov back from 4-2 in the third, he broke again to claim his third career win against the 27-year-old, 7-6(4) 6-2 6-4.
“It’s a shame,” a dispirited Dimitrov reflected. “Physically I felt good, but I think – obviously I lost my nerves early on in the first set after I lost that set. So it was kind of tough to recover from that.
“But even so, I still had some time to kind of get into a rhythm, get into a different match, and just didn’t happen. You know, simple as that.
“I mean, unfortunately Paris has always been, I guess, great to me, but I just could never turn it around out here.”
Dimitrov continued: “You have to draw the line and look for the next chapter. In tennis you never know one week can always turn things around for you. It’s been proven to work in the past.”
In contrast, Verdasco, seeded 30th, said he grew in confidence after claiming the first set.
“I think that my motivation comes from the wish to achieve good things and play matches like this in this tournament which are the greatest in the world,” he said.
“This is something that really motivates me to help me train every day and to do the best and be in the best shape to be able to face these tournaments.”
Dimitrov will now turn to the grass-court season, hoping to improve upon a last-16 Wimbledon exit to Roger Federer last year and return to the heights of 2014, where he lost a tight semi-final to Novak Djokovic.
But the 27-year-old, who enjoyed his best ever season last year including a win at the ATP World Tour Finals, says he will take a break from the game before plunging back into the treadmill of tour life.
“I definitely need to take some time off now to kind of reassess the whole clay court season, to be honest,” Dimitrov stated.
“I think that’s going to be the No 1 priority for me now to kind of step out from the tennis for a little bit, try to watch some matches and sort of try to progress somehow and just get better.
“How? I don’t want to be too negative right now.
“I know it’s hard right after the match, but I need to – I mean, I have always been a positive thinker, and I want to keep that on the same level right now.
“Obviously it’s tough when you lose a match, but that’s how it goes.”
For Verdasco, who has reached the last 16 for the 7th time, his hopes of breaking through that barrier will depend on Novak Djokovic who has also reached that stage as well.
The Serbian former world No.1 is still trying to find his feet after his time off with an elbow injury but he is definitely making progress as he ground his way to a 6-4 6-7(6) 7-6(4) 6-2 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut who, as pundits believed, was expected to give him a stronger test than his previous two opponents.
He had to revert to smashing his racket when he failed to convert an easy point during the second set tie-break, an incident which will no doubt attract a suitable fine in due course. He then handed the broken racket to a young fan courtside who will no doubt treasure the trophy.
“I’m not proud of doing that,” Djokovic admitted later. “But it happens at times in my career, when I would scream or throw a racket, it would make me wake up and help to free myself from that pressure that is just building up. But there are times when it doesn’t help. So it is really hard to say what is the right thing to do.”
Needless to say he is still fighting to get back to the form that took him to 12 majors, including one at the French Open.
He was never comfortable and found himself in dire trouble in the third set when he dropped serve to love at 3-4 only for his memory banks to switch on and lift his game to break back immediately and go on to claim the set on a tie-break and then sweep through the fourth to progress into the last 16 after three-hours and 48-minutes. Thirteenth seed Bautista Agut, playing just a few days after the death of his mother, Ester, no doubt had his mind on other more personal matters as Djokovic strode through the fourth as the drizzles started to fall.
“It was a magnificent four hours of tennis, I’m very tired but delighted to come through,” the 2016 champion said on court on arriving in the last 16 at a grand slam event for the 43rd time. “He plays with so much consistency you have to have patience.”
The men’s second seed Alexander Zverev survived a scare as he had to save a match point before beating Damir Dzumhur to progress as expected to equal his best ever performances at grand slams.
And the match wasn’t without its own incident as Dzumhur left a lasting impression on a ball boy when they crashed together while tracking a ball which the Bosnian had struck high in the air after receiving an out call. With both focused on the ball the pair collided with the youngster crashing to the ground. He was helped up by Dzumhur and once he recovered his breath, was back on duty.
Dzumhur was left to reflect on what could have been following his 6-2 3-6 4-6 7-6(3) 7-5 loss having recovered from 6-2 3-1 down to take a 2-1 set lead.
Dzumhur blew a 4-2 fourth set lead before he failed to serve out for the match in the 12th game. He did recover from a break down in the fifth set — had a match point on Zverev’s serve in the 10th game of the decider — but didn’t convert as the German hit a service winner to stay in the match.
“I don’t know what could I say after a match like this and a defeat like this. I’m very sad but not disappointed because I performed well and I fought.
“I have to admit that I’m sad because I was so close to victory. I performed very well — but after four hours of play — I lost after so many good and positive things,“ Dzumhur said.
In other action the Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori made light work of home favourite Gilles Simon on Court 18. The 19th seed won handily, beating the Frenchman 6-3 6-1 6-3 in two hours and three minutes and goes on to face Dominic Thiem who bullied his way past the Italian claycourt specialist Marco Berrettini 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2.