3rd June, 2012
Top seed Novak Djokovic staged an epic French Open fourth round recovery to defeat Italy’s Andreas Seppi 4-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 on Sunday and salvage his dream of making Grand Slam history.
Djokovic lost the two first two sets to Seppi, but had to dig deep to overcome the Italian’s challenge in the remaining three sets.
The world number one, bidding to become just the third man to hold all four majors at the same time, and first since 1969, struggled in the cold conditions on Philippe Chatrier court against a player he’d beaten seven times in seven meetings.
“I played very badly, but I won thanks to my fighting spirit,” said Djokovic.
The 25-year-old Serb has never got beyond the semi-finals in Paris and saw a 43-match winning run ended by Roger Federer in 2011 at the last four stage as his love-hate relationship with the venue hit a new low.
And for the first two sets on Sunday, he was heading for more misery and the biggest shock since Rafael Nadal had his perfect 31-match, four-title stretch smashed by Robin Soderling at the same stage in 2009.
But the top seed regrouped to record his third win from two sets to love down after pulling off similar Houdini acts against Federer in the US Open semi-final last year and Wimbledon second round against Guillermo Garcia Lopez in 2005.
His reward, after a tie which featured 158 unforced errors, is a clash with either French fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, the 18th seed, for a place in the semi-finals.
Djokovic looked on course for a routine afternoon’s work when he broke in the second game of the first set on his way to a 3-0 lead.
But 22nd-seeded Seppi, playing in his first Grand Slam fourth round match at the 29th attempt, and thriving in the bleak June weather, hit back in the fifth game and broke again to nudge ahead at 5-4.
A long forehand from Djokovic handed the 28-year-old Italian the opener, only the third set he had won against the Serb in his seven previous meetings.
The world number one continued to struggle with his timing and footwork in the second set and was broken to trail 2-3 with Seppi quickly backing it up with two love service games for a 5-3 lead.
Seppi was pinned back to 5-5 as the Serb stopped the rot but the Italian, with his confidence buoyed by a claycourt title in Belgrade in the run-up to Paris, prevailed in the tiebreak when a lacklustre Djokovic netted a forehand.
The heavy court continued to plague Djokovic and a break he carved out for a 3-2 lead in the third set was handed back in the sixth.
But, from nowhere, he summoned breaks in the seventh and ninth games to capture the third set.
He was 3-0 up in the fourth set, having won six games in succcession, but Seppi refused to buckle and pulled back to 3-3.
However, a pinpoint forehand crosscourt passing shot, picked up off his toes, gave Djokovic set point in the 12th game and the last 16 tie was level as Seppi could only find the net.
The decider was dominated by the Serb who broke for 4-2 as a wilting Seppi, who had played five-set matches in the second and third rounds, double faulted.
After four hours and 18 minutes, Djokovic secured his 25th successive Grand Slam match victory courtesy of a big, swinging forehand.
Djokovic will face either French fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, the 18th seed, for a place in the semi-finals.