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French Open 2016, Tennis

Djokovic struggles on day 10, but are continuing rain delays his biggest threat?

AP FRANCE TENNIS FRENCH OPEN S TEN FRA

“Here comes the rain again. . .”

 

After torrential rain forced play on day nine of the French Open at Roland Garros to be completely cancelled, there was more concern ahead of day ten on Tuesday.

Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams had to deal with the postponement of their fourth-round matches in Paris on Monday, meaning a backlog in their schedule on what should have been quarter-final’s day. And then on Tuesday morning, just what we didn’t need:

More rain.

It all meant that the optimistic 11am start for Djokovic’s tie with Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut was swept away, providing further headaches not only for the protagonists themselves, but also tournament director Guy Forget.

His first year in the role, he voiced his displeasure at Court Phillipe Chatrier not having a roof – they will have to wait until 2020 – and must have been praying to the heavens for an answer. But around 12pm, he got one.

Rain stopped, court covers were removed and the players walked out on court. Imagine Forget’s horror when the heavens opened again – but luckily the mild shower was playable and so the show went on.

Normal order finally restored. Or not as it happened, as once play got under way the usually dominant Djokovic found himself under the cosh against a rival who like him, was yet to lose a set in the tournament.

DjokovicAgut recovered from an early break to break Djokovic back twice. Djokovic would break back, as expected, but an inspired Bautista Agut broke for a third time and held on to take the first set 6-4, with a brilliant forehand winner to clinch it.

Rain, rain came again and the players were ushered back off court after less than an hour of play. That meant the prospect of spectators being refunded the full cost of their ticket if the delay persisted, but Forget would be saved that expense when showers stopped mid-afternoon, and play resumed at around 3.30.

The small window of play before lunch had at least produced the intriguing first set, which has seen Bautista Agut take the lead. In terms of drama however, it would pale in comparison to the second set once play resumed.

On serve through the first five games, Djokovic broke to lead 4-2, only for Bautista Agut to break back immediately. Neither man could hold serve through the next three games, with the underdog spurning numerous chances to put a below-par Djokovic away, his serving letting him down as the Serb took the set 6-4.

Serving certainly didn’t seem to be the order of the day – 10 breaks of serve already at that stage – but that would only favour the superior returner, and unfortunately for Bautista Agut, though he was clearly operating much below his best Djokovic is the best returner in the game – if not the sport’s history. When the world number one looked to have regained composure on his serve at the start of the third set, it was an ominous sign.

At 2-1 up, his returning prowess came to the fore to break and lead 3-1, and with Bautista Agut complaining of blisters on his feet, from there it looked as though the writing was on the wall. Bautista Agut valiantly fought to earn several break points on the next Djokovic service game, but the Serb swatted them all away with defiance and held to extend his lead to 4-1. Djokovic was cruising, and surely nothing could stop him now. But then, evoking memories of an Annie Lennox chorus, came the rain again.

And it keeps coming.

At one set a piece, but with a break in the third and momentum clearly on his side, it could be Mother Nature and not in fact Bautista Agut that is more capable of forcing an upset here. It’s possible that we won’t see any more play on day ten, meaning Djokovic may well be faced with the prospect of playing four matches five days – although the likelihood now is that the final will almost certainly carry over to next Monday. Either way, it will mean overcoming a very congested run-in if he is to lift his first French Open title.

 

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About Jack Sumner

Journalism graduate and freelance sports writer, in particular a lover of boxing, tennis and football (of the soccer variety). Liverpool supporter. Twitter @Jack_Sumner_

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