Sunday, May 20, 2018
Sports

One big upset, two close calls

PARIS — There was a moment, a little past 4 p.m. on a dank and dreary Sunday at the French Open, when the gray sky above appeared to be falling on some of the best of the best.

A listless Novak Djokovic, looking little like someone ranked No. 1 and bidding to become the first man in 43 years to win four consecutive Grand Slam titles, was trying to work out of a two-set deficit against 22nd-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy on Court Philippe Chatrier.

More astonishingly, Roger Federer, owner of a record 16 major championships, was trudging to the sideline after dropping his first set against 109th-ranked David Goffin of Belgium, a 21-year-old thrilled merely to be sharing Court Suzanne Lenglen with his idol.

By that point, one significant upset already was complete: The top-seeded woman, Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, was headed home after losing to No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), busting a racket on the way out the door.

Asked afterward what she'll do to recover, Azarenka replied sarcastically, "I'm going to kill myself," then added: "This tournament is over for me. What's to recover from?"

It briefly seemed reasonable to ask in the afternoon whether the tournament might soon be over in the fourth round for Djokovic and Federer, too. In the end, the answer was no.

For some time, Djokovic missed shots this way and that then shook his head or yelled at himself or spread his arms wide with palms up as if to ask, "What's going on here?" He finished with 81 unforced errors, exactly his total for his first three matches combined. But Seppi's not nearly as accustomed to these stages or stakes, and Djokovic pulled out a 4-6, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory, his 25th in a row at a major tournament.

"One of those days where … nothing is working," Djokovic said. "I could not get into the rhythm."

He began to turn things around by breaking serve to begin the third set, and he kept on doing that, nine times in all.

The third-seeded Federer, the 2009 champion at Roland Garros, finally won 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 then gave Goffin a tap on the head and a pat on the back. He hugged him at the crowd's behest during an on-court interview.

The Belgian spoke earlier in the tournament about having photos and posters of Federer in his bedroom as a child.

"I've had an extraordinary week," Goffin said. "The icing on the cake was to play here against Roger."

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