Fast-forward to the end of the third set, and again, Tsonga broke Djokovic in the final game, again earning a long, loud celebration in the stands.
But Djokovic wouldn't go quietly.
About 10 minutes after erasing Tsonga's first two match points at 5-4 in the fourth set, Djokovic dealt with two more at 6-5. He got some help on No. 3, when Tsonga dumped a forehand into the net. Djokovic slammed home an overhead near a line on No. 4. When he held serve to 6-all, Djokovic roared.
Tsonga missed a backhand to end the ensuing tiebreaker, sending them to a fifth set, and Djokovic strutted to the changeover, baring his teeth and shaking his right fist. When Djokovic's backhand closed the match 4 hours, 9 minutes after it began, he reared back on his heels and pumped both arms, then pounded his chest.
"As a tennis player, this is what you live for," he said. "This is what you practice for all these years."
Afterward, the crowd chanted Tsonga's name, trying to lift the spirits of a player who hoped to give France its first male champion at a Grand Slam tournament since Yannick Noah in Paris in 1983. Tsonga sat on his green bench, a towel covering his head.
"I was tired. I was frustrated. I was disappointed," said Tsonga, who lost to Djokovic in the 2008 Australian Open final. "You want to break your racket. You want to shout. You want to cry. You want to laugh and say, 'Oh, come on. That's a joke. How could I lose this match?' "
Djokovic has a way of making foes wonder.
Next in his way is Federer. About three months after last year's epic French Open semifinal, they met in the U.S. Open semifinals, and Djokovic erased two match points that day en route to the championship.
So the question after Tuesday's escape act was obvious: How does Djokovic manage to be at his best when the pressure is greatest?
"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 or when you're losing and you're very close to lose the match," Djokovic said. "It's, I guess, trying to be mentally tough and believing in your shots."
Despite winning the French Open, Rafael Nadal will be seeded merely No. 5 at Wimbledon, opening the prospect of a quarterfinal with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray.
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