Monday, June 4, 2012

Djokovic rallies on a strange day at French Open

PARIS (AP) ? Novak Djokovic won even though he felt like nothing was working.

A much less-known player named David Goffin lost, but he walked out of Roland Garros feeling like the luckiest guy in the world.

It was a strange, gray Sunday at the French Open that didn't always fit the script ? and even included an early exit by the top-seeded woman, Victoria Azarenka.

The top-seeded man, Djokovic, punctuated the weirdness, in need of his third career comeback from two sets down to post a fourth-round victory over 22nd-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy, 4-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.

"Today, I played a very poor match," Djokovic said.

Goffin, in the draw as a "lucky loser" after falling in qualifying, found himself with a one-set lead against none other than his childhood favorite, Roger Federer, before falling 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. At the end, the 21-year-old, 109th-ranked Goffin got a hug from the 16-time major champion that left him smiling.

"I've had an extraordinary week," he said. "I went through the quallies with a bit of luck. Then I played my best tennis. I played three great matches. The icing on the cake was to play here with Roger.

"I won't hide from you that I had photos of Roger everywhere in my room" growing up, Goffin said.

Goffin's mood was quite different from that of Djokovic, who felt like he got away with one on a sleepy, quiet and cool day in Paris.

Other than the fact that he grinded it out and won, and that his hopes of winning his fourth straight Grand Slam tournament ? the "Novak Slam" ? are still alive, Djokovic conceded there wasn't much to build on from this win, his 25th straight in the majors.

"I'm not worried," he said. "I'm just hoping that I can wake up tomorrow morning knowing that I'm in the quarterfinals. Forget this match today. Take the best out of it, which is that I'm proud I've been fighting, coming from two sets down."

Across the way from Djokovic, at Court Suzanne Lenglen, Azarenka got off to a similarly bad start, except she never recovered ? and wound up with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) loss to No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova that made her grumpy.

Azarenka bashed her racket into the ground during a second-set changeover and received a warning for racket abuse.

Her frustration was still showing after the match, when, asked what she would do to recover from the loss, she answered sarcastically.

"I'm going to kill myself," she said. "This tournament is over for me. What's to recover from? It's (time) to really look forward and improve. That's it."

For a while, it looked like both top seeds would be out on the middle Sunday, but Djokovic refused to let the weather, his own problems or his surprisingly game opponent keep him down.

Djokovic made it to his 12th straight Grand Slam quarterfinal and added this two-set comeback to a list that includes last year's comeback against Federer in the semifinals at the U.S. Open, when he saved two match points before escaping.

This one never got that close, and after an early break in the third set ? the first of seven Djokovic recorded over the final three sets ? there was a sense of inevitability. The match took 4 hours, 18 minutes, though it figures the gray skies and temperatures in the low 60s won't take too much of a toll on the world's top-ranked player.

Federer said the whipping wind was a factor in his match, but gave most of the credit for his troubles to his opponent.

"He's got great potential in terms of his touch and the way he reads the game," Federer said. "I thought it was an interesting match."

Federer will play the winner of a match between Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro. Djokovic will go against Stanislas Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Nobody on that half of the draw will be seeded worse than 18th ? a much different picture from the women's bracket, which is as wide-open as ever.

Azarenka found company on the sideline with former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 6-0, 7-5 loser to 21st-seeded Sara Errani of Italy.

The Williams sisters, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and former champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone are among the others already gone with the second week just getting under way. Li Na is the only former French Open champion still in the draw.

"I'm happy and curious," said Errani, now in her second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal. "The strongest sensation is curiosity ? to see how far I can go, and up to what level I can arrive. Even I don't really know."

Errani's next opponent is 10th-seeded Angelique Kerber, a 6-3, 7-5 winner over Petra Martic. Kerber had only one victory in her previous four appearances at Roland Garros. She now finds herself two wins away from playing for the title and wondering: Why not her?

"It's a new situation," Kerber said. "I've played good from the beginning of the year. I think the players know right now who I am, and, yeah, I think nobody wants to play against me right now."

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