Nadal, Djokovic win but outshone at French Open


Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were supposed to be the French Open bill-toppers at Roland Garros on Saturday, but their thunder was firmly stolen by events away from the centre court.

The defending champion Spaniard and top-seeded Serbian both won comfortably in straight sets.

Nadal endured another slow start, but moved through the gears to defeat Italian Fabio Fognini 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 6-4 and qualify for the last 16.

Following him on the Philippe Chatrier centre court, Djokovic comfortably defused the challenge of rising Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov to win 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 although he needed treatment to a right arm injury near the end of the match.

Little drama and few thrills then for a packed centre court crowd enjoying some fine sunshine after days of cold and rain.

All the excitement came out on the lesser courts with, in particular, a pulsating third round match on Court 1 where Tommy Haas needed 13 match points before seeing off the challenge of the marathon man of tennis, John Isner.

The veteran German squandered 12 match points in the fourth set before finally converting on what turned out to be a lucky 13th occasion for a 7-5, 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-7 (10/12), 10-8 win.

American Isner is already a tennis legend for having taken part in what was by far the longest match in history.

That came at the 2010 Wimbledon championships when he defeated Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in a tie that lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes over the course of three days.

Haas, who has enjoyed a sudden new lease of life this year at the age of 35, appeared to be headed for a straightforward win after taking the first two sets.

But all that suddenly changed after the giant Isner won the third.

Haas was on top again in the fourth set, but each time he brought up match point Isner came up with an answer, leaving the German to hurl his racket in abject frustration.

Isner had an early break in the decider, but Haas got back on level terms, fending off a match point against him in the process, and with no tie-breaker in operation in the final set, thoughts turned to what happened on the grass of Wimbledon three years ago.

The tie got to 8-8 when finally Haas made the breakthrough with Isner netting a volley to drop serve.

The 12th seed then served out for the win, clinching a place in the last 16 when Isner hit a backhand return wide.

“The way he was saving those match points, the way he was serving, I don’t think there was much anyone could have done about it,” said Haas.

“It was a great match to be part of, especially against someone who is used to those type of matches. It was a big roller coaster with not much thoughts in between. It will definitely be one of my best matches to look back on.”

“I was labouring a bit at the end for sure,” commented an exhausted-looking Isner.

Earlier there had been a near punch up out on Court 7 where Serbian Janko Tipsarevic unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade at two noisy fans who kept up a running commentary during his match with Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

The offending spectators were eventually sent packing, but Tipsarevic still lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

“There were two guys in the corner constantly taunting and laughing, and you could really see they didn’t come to watch any tennis but just to pose,” said Tipsarevic.

“I just snapped, because you could really see they didn’t really care, what the score was or even who was playing. They just wanted to look nice and be at the French Open. They had no respect to the players in terms of being quiet or what.”

In other matches, seventh seed Richard Gasquet defeated Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to join countrymen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon in the fourth round.

He will next take on Swiss ninth seed Stanislas Wawrinka who defeated Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz 6-3, 6-7 (2/7), 6-3, 6-3.

Kei Nishikori, meanwhile, became the first Japanese man to reach the last 16 at Roland Garros in 75 years when he defeated Benoit Paire of France 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-1.

His reward for that is a matchup against defending champion Nadal, who is bidding to become the first man to win the same Grand Slam title eight times.

In the final match completed in the third round as the light faded, Phillipp Kohlschreiber of Germany eased past Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-0, 7-6 (7/0), 6-1 to set up a fourth round clash with Djokovic.