Difficult for Djokovic, easy for Nadal at French Open
Paris — From a tiff with the chair umpire to the big deficit he created and then needed to overcome in a steady rain, Novak Djokovic had an all-around difficult day at the French Open.
Rafael Nadal’s journey to the fourth round, in contrast, could hardly have been easier. Indeed, his 100th best-of-five-set match on clay was also the most lopsided.
The stark numbers on the scoreboards at Court Philippe Chatrier revealed plenty about how differently things went in the back-to-back contests Friday for defending champion Djokovic and nine-time champion Nadal. First up in the main stadium at Roland Garros was Nadal, who won 82 points and conceded merely 36 in a 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 victory over 63rd-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili.
“The score is quite embarrassing, you know,” Basilashvili acknowledged, “but I have to accept it.”
Djokovic followed in the main stadium and found himself in quite a bit of trouble right away against 41st-ranked Diego Schwartzman before emerging to win 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.
While it took Basilashvili 12 games and 49 minutes just to claim a single game — which spectators greeted with a roar as he stood motionless and straight-faced — Schwartzman not only took the second game of his match against Djokovic, he grabbed the opening set, too. And then the third, to go up by two sets to one.
Schwartzman played well during that stretch, to be sure, but the No. 2-seeded Djokovic’s biggest problem was himself. He wound up with 55 unforced errors to 43 winners, and all sorts of issues on his backhand wing, which produced 33 of those miscues, all under the watchful eye of new coach Andre Agassi.
Djokovic, who completed a career Grand Slam a year ago in Paris, eventually managed to figure out how to steady his game, if not his demeanor.
As Schwartzman became less proficient and complained about issues in his right hip area — a trainer came out and gave him a massage during a changeover late in the final set — Djokovic became more assertive and more accurate.
Still, there were distractions.
In the fourth set, with Djokovic leading 4-0 and serving at 30-all, he was given a fault by chair umpire Carlos Ramos for multiple time violations. After the ensuing point, Djokovic stared in Ramos’ direction. Moments later, just about to face a break point, Djokovic yelled at himself, mostly in Serbian. Then, facing Ramos, Djokovic briefly lifted his racket overhead, before using it to flip a ball backward toward a ball boy.
That’s when Ramos interrupted, announcing a code violation warning for unsportsmanlike conduct. Djokovic walked over and barked: “What’s wrong with you? What did I say? What did I say? What did I say? Why did you give me warning? What, do you understand Serbian?”
Ramos had trouble getting a word in edgewise, but he responded: “Because of what you did. The gesture you made with the racket. This is not acceptable.”
Djokovic: “Did I hit the ball in your direction?”
Ramos: “No, you did not.”
Djokovic: “Did I hit it? Why did you give me a warning?”
Ramos: “Because of your attitude.”
Djokovic: “What attitude, man?”
When play resumed, Djokovic missed a forehand to drop that game. He would win 8 of 9 games the rest of the way.
Elsewhere on Day 6 at Roland Garros, 10th-seeded David Goffin stopped playing after turning his ankle when he tripped on a tarp at the back of the court in the first set against Horacio Zeballos; No. 5 Milos Raonic advanced when his opponent, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, quit because of a left thigh injury; No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta eliminated No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 6-3, 6-4; and No. 6 Dominic Thiem was a 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-3 winner against No. 25 Steve Johnson, an American who generated sympathy from fans and foes as he displayed raw emotion while competing just weeks after the death of his father.
In women’s play, defending champion Garbine Muguruza beat No. 27 Yulia Putintseva 7-5, 6-2, and a couple of unseeded Americans lost to seeded opponents: No. 13 Kristina Mladenovic edged Shelby Rogers 7-5, 4-6, 8-6, while No. 23 Sam Stosur eliminated qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 6-2.