Djokovic streaks into quarterfinals

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / May 30, 2011

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PARIS — His 43d consecutive victory complete, Novak Djokovic ripped off his white baseball cap, pivoted to look up at his parents, coach, and other supporters in the stands, then let out a yell.

It was the sort of visceral reaction one might expect at the conclusion of a taut, tense contest, not the rather routine 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 result the second-seeded Djokovic assembled yesterday at the expense of No. 13 Richard Gasquet in the fourth round of the French Open.

“I didn’t expect it to be easy, that’s for sure,’’ said Serbia’s Djokovic, who briefly addressed the crowd in French, drawing laughter and cheers. “Maybe the scoreline says differently, but I really . . . had to work.’’

Each match carries extra meaning these days for Djokovic, whose winning streak began with two Davis Cup victories in December and is the third longest since the Open era began in 1968. Now 41-0 in 2011, he’s one win shy of John McEnroe’s mark of 42-0 in 1984.

“As soon as he hits a return, he grabs you by the throat,’’ said Frenchman Gasquet, a former top-10 player and 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist who was supported by a partisan crowd yesterday. “To beat him, you need to produce the perfect match and not make any mistakes.’’

Roger Federer’s opponents over the years know that feeling, too. The 16-time major champion moved a step closer to a semifinal showdown against Djokovic by overwhelming No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, reaching the quarterfinals at a record 28th Grand Slam tournament in a row.

Federer next faces No. 7 David Ferrer of Spain or No. 9 Gael Monfils, whose fourth-round match was suspended in the fourth set because of darkness. Djokovic meets 49th-ranked Fabio Fognini, who set aside a left thigh injury that left him immobile and erased five match points to beat Albert Montanes, 11-9, in the fifth set.

“I have to be honest. I didn’t think I could win the match,’’ Fognini said. “I couldn’t move.’’

While the elite men are still around — today No. 1 Rafael Nadal, No. 4 Andy Murray, and No. 5 Robin Soderling try to join Djokovic and No. 3 Federer in the quarterfinals — chaos continues in the women’s draw.

No. 3 Vera Zvonareva, runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, lost the last five games and was defeated, 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-2, by No. 14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Zvonareva’s exit followed those of No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the third round, and No. 2 Kim Clijsters in the second, making this the first French Open — and only third Grand Slam tournament — in the Open era with none of the top three seeded women in the quarterfinals.

The past two French Open champions remain, though: 2010’s Francesca Schiavone got past 10th-seeded Jelena Jankovic, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, and 2009’s Svetlana Kuznetsova was a 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-2 winner against No. 28 Daniela Hantuchova, who eliminated Clijsters.

“Everyone is [saying] that we don’t really have a leader right now in [women’s] tennis, because, it’s, like, up and down, I mean, in terms of results,’’ said Pavlyuchenkova, a 19-year-old never before past the fourth round at a major. “It’s not like No. 1, or top five, are winning, like in [men’s] tennis.’’

Indeed, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have won 23 of the past 24 Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic’s contribution to that total came at the 2008 and 2011 Australian Opens. He’s long been known for his sublime two-handed backhand, service returns, and movement on court. Lately, he’s improved his serve and fitness.

He’s only lost serve twice through four matches at Roland Garros, and against Gasquet saved all three break points. Djokovic also broke Gasquet four times and hit more than twice as many winners, 34-16.

“He plays fast. He hits the ball really early. His return is colossal,’’ Gasquet said. “He’s got no weakness.’’