Monday 5 December 2016

Only the best survive as glory game hits fever pitch

Simon Briggs

Published 02/06/2015 | 02:30

Novak Djokovic is looking to complete the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969
Novak Djokovic is looking to complete the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969

"Anyone who wants to win this event is going to have to play great tennis," said Andy Murray after his four-set victory over Jeremy Chardy, "because of the level of the field that's left in it."

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That might sound like a truism at any Grand Slam, and yet the stats show that this year's French Open boasts the toughest quarter-final line-up ever assembled at Roland Garros.

Once Novak Djokovic had brushed past Richard Gasquet to complete the eight-man list, every single man had reached a Grand Slam final - a combination that had never arisen in 45 years of Open-era tennis.

The quarter-finals begin today and you do not have to be Swiss to be fascinated by the prospect of Roger Federer facing Stan Wawrinka in a reprise of the memorable meeting at London's O2 Arena in November.

In case we forget, that was the one in which Federer's wife Mirka was overheard on the courtside microphones calling Wawrinka a "cry-baby".

Intriguing

But the really hot ticket will be tomorrow's match - and not the one between Murray and David Ferrer, intriguing though that promises to be.

The narrative of the whole season has been building up to the Djokovic-Rafael Nadal showdown on Court Philippe Chatrier. One man chasing La Decima (his 10th French Open title), while the other has realistic ambitions of completing the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

"It is probably the toughest quarter-final in my career in Roland Garros," said Nadal, whose only previous defeat at the French Open came in the fourth round in 2009.

"Novak is in front. He's the best player in the world without any doubt. Very dominant. Probably he is the favourite here. But I am here to fight. I hope to play my best. That's the only way."

More of that tomorrow. For now, let us return to Murray and his second successive match on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

We can be pretty sure that the Ferrer encounter will not displace Nadal-Djokovic XLIV from Chatrier, so it may come in handy to have spent time acclimatising to Roland Garros's second-string arena.

This was one of those awkward draws, for, while Chardy may boast a mediocre world ranking of 45, his eye-watering power had already taken out two seeds last week.

He does not just come from Pau (a south-western city on the edge of the Pyrenees), but hits the ball with a 'Pow', as witnessed by a total of 49 clean winners - the highest of any fourth-round match.

The 10,000 fans on Lenglen had little opportunity to reach peak volume in the first set, as Murray offered just two unforced errors. But the match took an unexpected turn at the start of the second, when he had multiple break chances and missed them all.

Suddenly Chardy was energised, claiming a break of his own with a punishing backhand return of serve that landed on the baseline.

Murray now entered wild-haired, goggle-eyed, foul-mouthed mode for the best part of the next set, as he scrabbled for purchase on Chardy's fast and unpredictable serve.

"He started panicking a little," was the Frenchman's verdict after the match.

The panic might have spread if Chardy had been able to hold on to the break he made at the start of the third.

But that was a big ask. He had been swinging like a saloon-bar door for 90 minutes already; were he able to keep up that level of intensity throughout a match, he would be a top-10 player at the very least.

It was no great surprise that a growing number of forehands started to skew out of control, while Murray gradually tightened up his act.

His performance was similar to the one he produced in the second round, against Joao Sousa: excellent in the first and fourth set; a little spotty in the second and third.

Still, it feels churlish to pick holes when Murray is through to his 17th successive Grand Slam quarter-final.

Only three men in Open era tennis have managed a longer streak, and two of them - Federer and Djokovic - are still in this tournament of champions. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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