Novak Djokovic’s hopes of claiming the missing piece of his Career Grand Slam may have been boosted by the withdrawal through injury of Rafael Nadal, but the weather gods have conspired to ensure he will still face a sizable challenge if he is to land the French Open title. As things stand, the world No. 1 will have to play five times in six days in order to lift the Coupe des Mosquetaires on Sunday.
Djokovic’s fourth round match against tough Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut was due to begin on Monday, but the entire day’s play was washed out by rain. When they finally got onto the court on Tuesday, only two hours of play were possible, leaving the match suspended with Djokovic having recovered from a set down to lead 4-1 in the third. The Serbian finished the job in four sets on Wednesday, but will be back on court at Roland Garros for his quarterfinal on Thursday morning.
“Once you accept the circumstances and the decision is such that you play, then you have to go with it,” Djokovic said afterward. “It's the same for you and your opponent. But it was a great mental test for all of us, really, yesterday the entire day. I'm, in a way, glad to have a match like this, because it's a challenge that you need to overcome mentally mostly.”
If the scheduling is far from ideal, the draw for Djokovic is more comforting. In the last eight he will take on seventh seed Tomas Berdych. While the Czech 30-year-old sealed an impressive straight-sets win over David Ferrer in the fourth round, his record against Djokovic does not make for pretty reading. In 25 matches, Berdych has won just two, with Djokovic winning the last 10.
If Djokovic continues that streak, he will also face what is, at least on paper, a favorable semifinal draw. Rather than Nadal, who was seeded to be his opponent in the last four, Djokovic would take on either 12th seed David Goffin or fast-rising Austrian Dominic Thiem, who will face off later on Thursday. Djokovic holds a combined 6-0 record against the two.
The other two semifinalists have already been confirmed. But, while Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have benefited from being one match ahead in the battle to beat the rain, they are faced with the tougher path to the final. Indeed, Murray’s route to the semifinals has already been highly eventful.
The world No. 2 arrived in Paris in fine form, having won the title in Rome last month, but has only replicated that level of performances in flashes thus far. In the first two rounds, the Scot was pushed all the way to five sets by Radek Stepanek and Mathias Bourgue, before he dealt well with giant servers Ivo Karlovic and John Isner.
On Wednesday, having blown advantages in the first two sets, Murray was staring at a two-sets-to-love hole against Richard Gasquet when down 3-1 in the second-set tie-break. But at that moment Murray seized control and refused to relinquish it in winning the third and four sets 6-0 6-2.
In the semifinals on Friday, Murray will now take on Wawrinka, who, despite being the defending champion has largely slipped through the draw to little attention. The third-seeded Swiss came into the French Open having shown precious little to suggest he could retain the title he won with a sensational victory over Djokovic 12 months ago. And he was given a scare in the opening round at Roland Garros, too, having to overcome a two-sets-to-one deficit against Lukas Rosol.
Since then, however, the 31-year-old’s progress has been smooth, and certainly was in beating Spain’s Alvert Ramos-Vinolas in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
French Open men’s title betting odds (via Oddschecker)
Novak Djokovic – 4/9
Andy Murray – 7/2
Stan Wawrinka – 11/2
Dominic Thiem – 18/1
Tomas Berdych – 50/1
David Goffin – 66/1