‘So dumb’: Curfew farce mars Djokovic victory

Novak Djokovic’s Roland-Garros quarterfinal against Matteo Berrettini was delayed for about 22 minutes while thousands of spectators were cleared out because of an 11pm coronavirus curfew.

Pandemic-related restrictions were loosened to allow 5000 inside on Court Philippe-Chatrier rather than the 1000 for the previous matches, and it was quite an atmosphere until the rule was imposed.

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“The conditions were strange with the fans here and then the atmosphere was a bit different (afterwards),” Djokovic said after winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 to reach his 40th Grand Slam semifinal. “You have to find a different motivation because the energy from the fans is special.”

Some disappointed fans jeered and even sang “We’ve paid, we’ll stay” as they refused to leave when supposed to at 10.45 pm.

Shortly before 10.55pm, both players packed their bags and walked off down the tunnel while fans shouted out in frustration. The top-ranked Djokovic was up 2-1 in sets and leading 3-2 in the fourth set when play was halted.

“Rip-off!” one said, while others blamed broadcaster Amazon or French Tennis Federation president Guy Forget.

Within a few minutes the main stadium was almost completely empty, although two angry fans continued to argue they had a right to stay until security officials finally ushered them away at 11.10pm.

Moments later, both players came back out to warm up amid a cathedral-like silence as the sound of ball hitting racquet replaced the sometimes raucous atmosphere. Because after being away from live sports for so long, an appreciative crowd was in the mood for entertainment.

Their unbridled enthusiasm turned sour at 10.30pm when chair umpire James Keothavong was roundly jeered for reminding the fans they had to leave at 10.45pm.

Most did not, but at just after 11.15pm the players had resumed their match.

The top-ranked Djokovic experienced something similar during the Australian Open in February, when fans needed to be ushered out of his victory over Taylor Fritz because of coronavirus restrictions there.

Once two points from a straight-set victory and seemingly well on his way to a Roland-Garros semifinal showdown against Rafael Nadal, Djokovic had to deal with so much that went awry: consecutive unforced errors that gave away a tiebreaker and a face-down tumble that drew blood from his left palm.

Still, the top-seeded Djokovic held on and moved on, pulling out the quarterfinal victory against No.9 Berrettini.

“This match had it all: falls, crowd, break. It was a lot of intensity. I just felt under tension the entire time,” Djokovic said. “The reaction (at) the end was just me liberating that tension that was building up for the entire match.”

Now comes a semifinal Friday against a familiar foe in a rematch of last year’s Roland-Garros final, but a round earlier: Nadal, who is 105-2 in the clay-court tournament.

“We know each other well,” the third-seeded Nadal said. “Everybody knows that in these kind of matches, anything can happen.”

Nadal’s Roland-Garros set streak ended earlier Wednesday. His pursuit of a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title — and what would be a 14th in Paris alone — remained very much intact, however.

Nadal reached his 14th semifinal in Paris; Djokovic his 11th. It’s Djokovic’s 40th trip to the final four at any major, Nadal’s 35th. Nadal and Roger Federer share the men’s mark of 20 Grand Slam titles; Djokovic is at 18.

The semifinal will be the superstar duo’s 58th match-up, more than any other two men in the sport’s professional era; Djokovic leads 29-28. But Nadal is ahead 10-6 in Slam meetings, 7-1 in Paris.

“I’m confident. I believe I can win,” Djokovic said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”

Nadal, meanwhile, entered his quarterfinal with a 35-set run at Roland-Garros that began during the 2019 final. That grew to 36, before Schwartzman outplayed him for a stretch.

“I don’t pretend to come here and not (lose) sets. Is not my mindset to come here and just thinking (losing) a set is going to be a disaster for me. I mean, that’s part of the game,” Nadal said. “The thing that matters is how you recover from a set lost.”

At a set apiece and Schwartzman up 4-3 in the third, this is how Nadal sized things up: “That was the moment to make it happen.”

As if wanting something were enough to will it into existence, he won the next nine games, leaving Schwartzman muttering to himself and bouncing his racquet off the clay.

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