PARIS – Four times, the stands at Roland Garros were ready to erupt, a beloved Frenchman standing one point from beating the world’s top player and ending his quest for history.
Four times, Novak Djokovic had an answer for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Top-seeded Djokovic overcame four match points, to say nothing of the wildly partisan crowd, for a 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-1 victory over Tsonga that ended near twilight Tuesday.
“There is not really any rational explanation or word that can describe what you’re supposed to do when you’re match points down or you’re very close to losing the match,” Djokovic said. “I guess it’s trying to be mentally tough and believing in your shots.”
Djokovic did and got the win – his 26th straight in the majors.
After he converted his first match point – a backhand winner down the line – Djokovic leaned back and pumped his fists over and over. Tsonga, the No. 5 seed who had dreams of becoming the first Frenchman to win his country’s Grand Slam since Yannick Noah in 1983, sat with his head buried in a towel, while the few fans left chanted his name.
It was the end to a remarkable day of tennis that included third-seeded Roger Federer’s comeback from two sets down for a 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 win over No. 9 seed Juan Martin del Potro. After both the winners rest their legs, they’ll meet with a spot in the final on the line.
“Well, I’m very disappointed for Jo,” Federer said. “For him, it’s a disappointment. As for me, it’s nothing different as from last year. I’m playing Djokovic in the semifinal.”
Djokovic’s last Grand Slam loss came against Federer in that semifinal last year. If Federer does it again, he’ll set the stage for his 17th Grand Slam tournament title, but his first since the 2010 Australian Open.
Djokovic, meanwhile, will try to set up a chance to join Rod Laver and Don Budge as the only men to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.
“The good thing is that we both have two days off now to rest,” Djokovic said. “And I hope to have another great match like we did in 2011.”