French Open: Novak Djokovic makes short work of Aljaz Bedene to reach fourth round

Serb completes straight sets victory in fading light after weather disrupts play in Paris

Paul Newman
Tennis Correspondent in Paris
Saturday 28 May 2016 17:27
Novak Djokovic shakes hands with Aljaz Bedene following the world No 1's third round victory
Novak Djokovic shakes hands with Aljaz Bedene following the world No 1's third round victory

Aljaz Bedene and a dramatic thunderstorm did their best to delay Novak Djokovic but when the world No 1 is in a hurry there can be no stopping him. After an afternoon disrupted by the weather, Bedene and Djokovic did not get on court here at the French Open until just before 7.30pm but that was time enough – just – for the Serb to secure his passage into the fourth round. The light was fading fast as Djokovic completed his 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 victory at 9.29pm.

After a mid-afternoon thunderstorm there had been no play on any courts for more than two and a half hours. Initially Djokovic and Bedene were told they had been switched from Court Philippe Chatrier to Court Suzanne Lenglen, but after the match on the main show court between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ernests Gulbis finished early, tournament organisers reverted to the original plan.

When the match got under way Djokovic seemed to be in a hurry and anxious not to have to return to complete the match the following day, though he insisted later that he had only started thinking about the time at the end of the second set. Bedene, appearing in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, played well at times, but Djokovic put him under constant pressure with the quality of his returns and the consistency of his ball-striking.

Djokovic broke Bedene at the first attempt, the world No 66 hitting a backhand long on the third break point. Given Djokovic’s hopes for a quick finish, it was bizarre that he was given a time violation by the umpire, Pascal Maria, for taking too long between points in the seventh game. At 5-2, nevertheless, Djokovic broke again to take the set, Bedene hitting a forehand long after his opponent’s stinging return.

The Serb broke in the fourth game of the second set and again in the sixth to go 5-1 up, only for Bedene to respond with his first break of serve. A well-judged lob took him to break point and he converted it with a fine forehand down the line.

Bedene saved four set points in holding on to his serve in the following game, but Djokovic was not to be denied. At 5-3 an ace took him to his fifth set point and Bedene’s netted forehand did the rest.

Before the start of the third set Bedene took a medical time-out because of a problem with his right eye. Djokovic broke in the opening game, but Bedene broke back to level at 2-2. Djokovic, sensing that the finish line was in sight, appeared to get irritated with every small delay, but put his foot on the accelerator and closed out victory by breaking serve for the seventh time.

Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had reached the second week of every French Open since 2004, but with the sport’s two biggest names not even making it to the first Saturday, thoughts have turned to those who might eventually replace them at the top of the game.

Austria’s Dominic Thiem and Germany’s Alexander Zverev, two of the most promising members of the next generation, met here in the opening match of the day on Court Suzanne Lenglen and provided regular reminders of why they are so highly regarded. Thiem, who at 22 is three years older than Zverev, won 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for only the second time in his career.

Thiem celebrates his victory over Zverev

Thiem, a fine all-rounder, has won more matches (23) on clay than any other player on the men’s tour this year. He won the titles in Buenos Aires and Nice and reached the final in Munich. The world No 15 had also beaten Zverev twice in recent weeks, in the semi-finals in Munich and the final in Nice.

Zverev, an attacking player with a big serve, had never previously played in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament and has been making his debut here. He is currently at a career-high No 41 in the world rankings.

The first set was tight. Zverev saved six break points in a marathon game at 5-5 and went on to win the tie-break 7-4. Thiem, however, took charge after an early exchange of breaks in the second set. The Austrian won the second set after breaking again in the sixth game, the third after breaks in the third and ninth games, and the fourth after breaking to go 3-1 up, when Zverev dropped serve after making two successive unforced errors.

“I thought the whole match was quite tight,” Zverev said afterwards. “He used his chances much better than me. I had a lot of break points, but I only used one of them. The score at the end was not as tight as I think the match was.”

Thiem thought the key difference had been the three-year age gap between the two men. Zverev said that working on his physical strength was a big priority, while Thiem thought his own improved fitness had been one of the main reasons for his progress this year.

Following Nadal’s withdrawal because of a wrist injury, Thiem has an excellent chance of going on to reach the quarter-finals. His fourth-round opponent will be Marcel Granollers, who had been due to play Nadal.

Gulbis was handed an unexpected passage into the fourth round when Tsonga retired injured when leading 5-2 in the first set. There were tears in the Frenchman’s eyes as he left the court.

“The problem is my abductor, the same thing I had before the tournament,” Tsonga said afterwards. “I came on court feeling pretty good, but when I slid in the first game I felt a pain. It became more and more painful. I knew it was over, because there was no chance that I could play the whole match like this.”

Gulbis revealed afterwards that he would not be going to the Olympics this summer because he did not want to be a “tennis tourist”. He said he did not like the fact that the Olympics did not carry any prize money or ranking points

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