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News & Photos / Articles / Del Potro and Djokovic serve up two-set thriller in the gloom

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Match of the Day: 27 May 2011
In fading light on Suzanne Lenglen Court, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro served up a magnificent spectacle of top-class tennis, made all the more enjoyable by the excellent atmosphere of mutual respect between the players. When chair umpire Pascal Maria called time on proceedings there was nothing to separate the two, the 6-3, 3-6 score-line setting things up perfectly for a three-set shootout on Saturday.

The fans on Suzanne Lenglen could hardly believe their luck. They had already had their fill after a hugely entertaining day's tennis that included peerless displays from Francesca Schiavone and Roger Federer, a real upset by Daniela Hantuchova over Caroline Wozniacki and a thrilling battling win for home favourite Richard Gasquet. Then, surprise surprise, they were told the undisputed match of the day between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro had been moved from Philippe Chatrier Court.

They would be treated to quite a show - one without a conclusive ending, but hugely enjoyable nonetheless. Looking to extend his unbeaten run of 41 matches stretching back over six months, Novak Djokovic took no time to get into his stride. Pouncing on some hesitant serving and benefitting from his opponent's unforced errors, the Serb bagged a break early and held that advantage to see out the first set 6-3.

Del Potro now found himself in the worst of scenarios. With time running out on the day, and enough left for one set and no more, the Argentinean former US Open champion had his back to the wall. Lose it and he would find himself facing mission highly improbable on Saturday. No doubt inspired to up his game, the 22-year-old did just that, continuing to hit heavy first services but with more regularity, reducing his unforced error count and pushing Djokovic back with his crunching ground-strokes.

Surprisingly, the world no.2 was the architect of his own downfall, no more so than when he double-faulted to hand his adversary the vital break. Del Potro's service saved him thereafter, as Djokovic earned break points, most notably at 5-3, 15-40, but was not given the chance to convert them. When a fourth consecutive service winner clinched him the set, Del Potro knew he had survived to fight another day - on equal terms.

Events have conspired in his favour, as he can now rest his wrist and legs that have not been given such an intense workout since his return from injury. Novak will be the less satisfied of the two, yet he will be confident of picking things up tomorrow and fending off his friend over three sets. Will Del Potro feel he can go on and win this? Can he be the one to bring Novak's winning run to an end? On this evidence most definitely yes, if - and this is a big if - he can keep those unforced errors down and find his rhythm again on that first service.

A footnote to the tennis was the tangible spirit of mutual appreciation on display in virtually every game, whether in Del Potro's refusal to profit from a touch-and-go call, Djokovic's unquestioning acceptance when the Argentinean circled a ball just out, the Serb apologizing for a lucky return off the frame or both players regularly applauding the other's winners.

In an age of empty platitudes and questionable sportsmanship, here was a heartening sight, a genuine display of fair play between world-class sportsmen, and perhaps the most enduring memory of a stolen evening on Suzanne Lenglen.

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