PARIS - Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer stayed on course for a mouth-watering French Open semi-final showdown on Sunday, but only after they survived fourth round scares at a chilly Roland Garros. Djokovic staged an epic recovery to defeat Italy’s Andreas Seppi 4-6, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 and salvage his dream of making Grand Slam history.
Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia downed top seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to pull off a major upset in fourth round action. The 15th seed won 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) to set up a quarter-final match with either Samantha Stosur of Australia or Sloane Stephens of the United States.
Errani, seeded 21, defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 6-0, 7-5, while 10th seed Kerber ousted Petra Martic of Croatia 6-3, 7-5. The pair will meet in the last eight in a top half of the draw which had also contained Azarenka. Errani has been the form player on clay this year winning tournaments in Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest. She also reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in January on hardcourts.
Federer, the champion in 2009, dropped the first set against Belgian lucky loser David Goffin, the world number 109, before claiming a 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 win on Suzanne Lenglen court. A lacklustre Djokovic committed 77 unforced errors to 22nd seed Seppi’s 81 before pulling through after four hours and 18 minutes. He will next face either French fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, the 18th seed, for a place in the semi-finals. Federer, contesting his 50th successive Grand Slam tournament, will take on either Argentine ninth seed Juan Martin Del Potro or Tomas Berdych, the seventh-seeded Czech.
The 25-year-old Djokovic has never got beyond the semi-finals in Paris and his discomfort on the testing red clay courts was starkly illustrated last year when a 43-match winning run was ended by Federer at the last four stage. On Sunday, his love-hate relationship with the venue looked set to slump to a new low. For the first two sets, he was heading for the biggest shock since Rafael Nadal had his perfect 31-match, four-title stretch smashed by Robin Soderling at the same stage in 2009. But the top seed regrouped as Seppi, who had also played five-set matches in the second and third rounds, wilted. Victory represented the Serb’s third win from two sets to love down after pulling off similar Houdini acts against Federer in the US Open semi-final last year and Wimbledon second round against Guillermo Garcia Lopez in 2005.
Federer, the record 16-time Grand Sam title winner, booked his place in a 32nd consecutive quarter-final at the majors. “I didn’t know much about Goffin beforehand, but I know him a lot better now,” said Federer, who was two points away from going down two sets to love against the Belgian, who used to plaster his bedroom wall with posters of the great Swiss.
After losing the first set, Azarenka appeared to be getting back on track as she broke to lead 2-0 in the second, but 23-year-old Cibulkova dug deep to run off four games in a row.
Azarenka levelled at 4-4, with the set then going to a tie-break which a pumped-up Cibulkova led from the start to pull off a stunning win.
“I am getting more mature and more tough mentally,” said Cibulkova, explaining that she had learned from the experience of losing to Azarenka in Miami earlier this year when leading a set and 5-2. “I managed to go through these emotions. She was 6-5 up, and I said, hey, come on, you have to play your game again and just make it. And for the tiebreak I‘m very, very proud of myself that I was still going for my shots, and I just made it because she would never give me the match. Azarenka said: “It wasn’t satisfying at all, not satisfying being out there playing like that. I do not know what to find positive in that. No excuses, just a bad performance.”
Earlier Sara Errani of Italy and Angelique Kerber of Germany both reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros for the first time with straight sets wins. After a tough opening game, Errani took total control as 2009 champion Kuznetsova struggled to put her game together. The first set was completed in just 30 minutes and it was more of the same at the start of the second as Errani, one of the smaller players on the circuit at just 1.64m, used her mobility and claycourt expertise to good effect.
Kerber, a semi-finalist at the US Open last year, easily won the first set against Martic and she immediately got a break in the second when the Croatian, ranked 50th in the world, miscalculated a drop shot and hit the ball into the net. Asked what was the reason behind her sudden charge up the world rankings in the last 12 months Kerber replied: “After the US Open I started to believe in myself more and I started to do more practice and fitness things. I know that I can beat the top players and now I am one of them. I think that nobody wants to play against me right now.”