PARIS - As the chilly evening air swirled, and raindrops fell, and the thousands of spectators pulling for his opponent hushed, Novak Djokovic stood a single point from exiting the French Open.
A single point from losing to France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
A single point from losing the chance to pursue a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title, something no man has done in 43 years.
Steeling himself with so much at stake, Djokovic came through, taking that crucial point thanks to an overhead that skimmed off the baseline to set up a putaway volley. Seconds later, he faced the same predicament— one point from defeat— and came through again, this time with a leaping forehand that barely landed in. All told, Djokovic faced four match points against Tsonga and won each one, extending the contest until seizing control for good.
French Open (May 27-June 10)
Rain or shine, clay or mud, Sunday or Monday, Rafael Nadal rules Roland Garros. The man they call "Rafa" won his record seventh French Open title on Monday, returning a day after getting rained out to put the finishing touches on a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic, and deny Djokovic in his own quest for history — the "Novak Slam." Full story
Djokovic won his 26th Grand Slam match in a row Tuesday, coming back and beating the fifth-seeded Tsonga 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-1 to set up a French Open rematch against 16-time major champion Roger Federer. A year ago in the semifinals at Roland Garros, Federer ended Djokovic's 43-match winning streak, the last time the Serb lost at one of tennis' four most important tournaments.
"Tennis is very mental. Lots of emotions," said the No. 1-ranked Djokovic, who won Wimbledon last July, the U.S. Open last September, and the Australian Open in January. "If you're playing a top player, a home favorite, and you have a crowd that's supporting him, you have to face these things. Physically, we're all fit, all hitting the ball well. But mentally, it's just a matter of a point here, a point there. That's sport. The one that mentally pushes more in some moments — and gets a bit lucky — gets the win."
Federer also fashioned a come-from-behind victory, and while he never was confronted with a match point, he did drop the first two sets before getting past No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3.
After taking that big lead, del Potro — who upset Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final — appeared to be hampered increasingly by a left knee that was heavily wrapped in white tape, although he declined to place any blame there afterward.
"He called the trainer, but he didn't take a timeout, so I didn't know what they were talking about, if he got painkillers, or what happened. So I was just trying to focus on me, really, because I was in trouble. He wasn't," said Federer, who won his only French Open title in 2009.
"Maybe his knee was (a problem). I don't know," Federer continued. "But doesn't matter how bad that knee is. Maybe he can just sit on it and just say, 'OK, here, take the two next sets ... and then I'll come back in the fifth set and I will destroy you.' "
The pivotal moment, then, was the fifth set's opening game, a 10-minute test. Del Potro held a break point, but Federer dismissed it with a forehand winner, then held.
Del Potro called that his "chance to win," and deemed Federer's response there "huge."
The last quarterfinals are Wednesday: No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 12 Nicolas Almagro, and No. 4 Andy Murray vs. No. 6 David Ferrer.
Nadal is trying to become the first man to win seven French Open championships.
Djokovic is chasing history, too: Only two men, Don Budge in 1938 and Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, claimed four major trophies in succession. They did it within a calendar year. Djokovic's feat wouldn't be considered a true Grand Slam because it's spread over two seasons, but it would be remarkable, nonetheless.
After Djokovic cruised through his first seven service games Tuesday, winning 29 of 36 points, Tsonga got back into the match by breaking twice late in the second set, including the last game, drawing a standing ovation at Court Philippe Chatrier.
"That's when the momentum changed," Djokovic said.
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has had a dominant run lately as he has won seven of the last eight French Open titles. Mary Carrillo thinks we’re in store for a Nadal-Djokovic final.
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