Novak Djokovic showed all his class to cut down Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Suzanne Lenglen court on Saturday. In a match carried over from the previous night when the score was one set all, Djokovic upped the ante on day two and finished off the match in 80 minutes of play, making a total of two hours 56 minutes. Djokovic now faces no.13 seed Richard Gasquet in what promises to be the match of the fourth round on Sunday.
After the drama of Friday night, it was a case of same place, same electric atmosphere. As the players strode out in the mid-afternoon sunshine, the sense of anticipation was tangible. In what was effectively a three-set shootout, both players eased their way into the encounter, trading service games until Djokovic hit three unforced errors in a row to hand the no.25 seed two break points at 2-2, 15-40.
Suddenly, the game exploded into life. Two long rallies ended with the Argentinean mistiming shots into the net as the pair began slugging it out, putting everything into the ball with Del Potro running around onto his forehand at every opportunity. Another rally went Novak's way, and a big service secured the save.
No more Mr. Nice Guy
It was every man for himself now, with Friday night's gentlemanly sharing of the spoils long forgotten and the contrast in playing styles captivating. Del Potro, the man mountain, stood and fired missiles from the centre of the baseline, towering over the court like a cruiserweight to Novak's middleweight.
Where the Serb had the edge was in his movement, lightning fast. An athlete at the cutting edge between speed and power, he was everywhere; left and right, back and forth between baseline and the security afforded a few yards behind the white line.
Del Potro slammed his racket into his bag at the changeover at 3-2, knowing full well that a chance to gain the initiative had gone begging. He would not get another. A dip in form, just a small one, was all Djokovic needed as he pounced on second services to force Del Potro into hurried choices. He kept the ball in play, usually within touching distance of a white line, until the break was his. He led 4-2.
Games then went with service and the third set was wrapped up 6-3, but not before the crowd revelled in some breathtaking exchanges. The most memorable came when both players improbably chose the flat shot option, meaning the ball flew inches above the net at incredible speed, drawing gasps from around Lenglen.
Last chance saloon
One set down on the day and more importantly 2-1 down on aggregate, Del Potro had no option but to fight fire with fire and in an incredible first point of the fourth set he did just that. A brilliant passing shot which scorched past a nonplussed Djokovic suggested that he was up to the challenge, but it was not to be.
At 1-1, 15-30 the two traded backhands for so long it had the fans laughing at the improbability of it all. Djokovic ended the comedy with a stunning backhand drop shot that brought him two more break points. Del Potro saved one, but gifted Novak the second with a double-fault. His fate was sealed.
Djokovic was on top now, and further breaks followed, including one for the Argentinean, before the Serb sealed the win with another astonishing drop shot. Variety was one of the things lacking in Del Potro's game, as well as the consistency that is such a trademark of Djokovic's incredible 40-match unbeaten start to the season. With Novak in such imperious form, this was too much of a step-up in class for the 22-year-old 2009 US Open champion, at least at this fledgling stage in his comeback.
As for the world no.2, while he showed the odd chink in his armour on Friday night, he was back to his ruthless best today, and on this form it is hard to see how anyone, starting with great French hope Richard Gasquet on Sunday, can stop him.
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