Novak Djokovic survived his closest call yet at the 2016 French Open, but not due to the play of his opponent. The world number one had very little trouble in dismissing seventh seed Tomas Berdych in straight sets, but a showing of frustration in the third set nearly ended his bid for a career grand slam. In the end, the Serb managed to advance to the semifinals for the sixth year in a row with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory.
Djokovic makes late charge
The match started out with both men in control of their service games. The first six games of the match went without so much as a break point. With Berdych serving in the seventh game, the world number one made his move. Djokovic smoked a winner and drew a pair of errors to reach double break point and convert his first with a forehand winner to break for a 4-3 lead. After holding to force Berdych to serve to stay in the set, the Czech reeled off four straight error from 15-0 to gift the Serb a second break and the opening set.
Late break stumps Berdych comeback
Djokovic’s momentum carried over into the second set, as he broke to love in the second game of the set, with Berdych double faulting on the break point, and followed it up with a hold to stretch his run to seven games in a row before the seventh seed finally held to get on the board at 1-3. After the pair exchanged routine holds, Berdych has his first chance of the match against the world number one’s serve. The Czech raced ahead 0-40 and after the Serb drew errors on the first two, he missed a forehand of his own to give Berdych the break back.
The Czech held with ease to level the set at 4-4 in the following game. After Berdych’s hold to 15, the next three games would all be held to love, which left the Czech serving to send the set to a tiebreak at 5-6. After the server had dominated the previous four games, the world’s best returner turned the tables. Djokovic drew four straight errors to break and seal the set 7-5.
Djokovic survives controversies to advance
With his back up against the wall, Berdych came out swinging to start the third set and broke Djokovic to love in the opening game of the set. Determined not to be left behind, the world number one battled to break point in the following game at 30-40 but missed a forehand to send the game to deuce. After missing the forehand, Djokovic’s French Open dream could have ended.
The Serb tried to throw his racquet to the court in frustration, but it slipped out of his hand and flew backwards, hitting the wall where the linesman had been seconds earlier. Had the linesman not reacted quickly and been hit, Djokovic almost surely would have been disqualified. Instead, he only received a code violation. However, Djokovic would rally and win the next two points to break back.
At 2-2, Berdych had two chances to reclaim the break lead, but could not convert either one. The Czech was then forced to battle through multiple deuces in his next service game before holding. At 3-3, Djokovic insisted the match be stopped due to the rain. The umpire suspended the match, much to Berdych’s frustration, even though the other courts did not stop.
Djokovic would finally achieve a late breakthrough at the perfect moment. With Berdych serving at 3-4, the Serb took advantage of some errors from his opponent to race ahead 0-40 and converted his second break point to give himself a chance to serve for the match. It would take two match points, but Djokovic would force another error out of Berdych to seal his spot in his sixth straight French Open semifinal.
By the numbers
As usual, Djokovic pummeled his opponent’s second serve, limiting Berdych to 37 percent of those points. Both men were solid on their first serve. The world number one was better in the rallies, hitting more winners (30 to 24) and fewer unforced errors (22 to 28). Berdych also struggled on break points, only saving two of the eight against his own serve, while only converting two of his six opportunities on the Djokovic serve.
Djokovic’s quest for a career Grand Slam will next go through Dominic Thiem in the semifinals. The young Austrian will be contesting his first major semifinal.