Rain means long day at French Open for Djokovic

Always so avant-garde, Serena Williams started this year's French Open fashion of addressing the Court Philippe Chatrier spectators in their language.

sports Updated: May 29, 2013 09:49 IST
Serena Williams,French Open,Court Philippe Chatrier

Always so avant-garde, Serena Williams started this year's French Open fashion of addressing the Court Philippe Chatrier spectators in their language.

Rafael Nadal followed suit after his first-round victory, as did Roger Federer, who's done it for years. And Novak Djokovic also got in on a ritual that's become de rigueur, telling fans in French at the end of a rain-disrupted Day 3 at the clay-court tournament, "The ambiance was awesome."

That's certainly one way to endear oneself to the locals.

"I really wanted to finish tonight," Djokovic said after wrapping up his match shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday, "although I know the crowd wanted to watch a little longer."

Because of the wet weather, there was not much tennis to see - only two of the four matches originally scheduled for Tuesday in the main stadium actually began. So Djokovic spent much of the afternoon wondering when he would wind up taking the court for what turned out to be a 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-5 victory over David Goffin in the first round of the only Grand Slam tournament the Serb has yet to win.

"It was a difficult day, because we have been waiting for hours and hours. I think I warmed up five or six times today," Djokovic said. "In these conditions ... you need to adjust your game and tactics, because it's quite different than comparing to the conditions when it's dry and sunny."

Unlike Wimbledon and the Australian Open, Roland Garros does not have a roof at any court.

Unlike the U.S. Open, though, at least there is a definitive timeline to build one.

French Open officials said last weekend they would proceed with plans to put a retractable roof over center court despite a judicial ruling in March that put the project on hold. The roof would be completed in 2018 as part of a $440 million renovation.

Last year's final between champion Nadal and runner-up Djokovic was halted in the fourth set Sunday because of rain, and they resumed Monday, the first time since 1973 the French Open didn't finish on time.

Djokovic was pleased to learn that a cover is coming to the main court in Paris, and he also is eager for them to install artificial lights. Both of those improvements would have contributed to a more stress-free evening Tuesday for the man ranked and seeded No. 1.

He and the 58th-ranked Goffin, a Belgian who was one of the revelations at Roland Garros a year ago, did not begin until after 6:30 pm, even though theirs was the second match of the day. They finished as light was fading.

"It was a long day," Djokovic said.

At least he got to play.

Because of showers that began in the morning, there was a delay of more than 2½ hours at the start. Then, after only 1½ hours of action, another stop of more than an hour came. In the end, 26 of 40 scheduled singles matches were completed, three were suspended in progress, and 11 were postponed entirely. That means players such as Victoria Azarenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, was slated for first-round action Wednesday, the fourth day of the tournament (when, by the way, the forecast called for more rain).

That sets up a situation where Azarenka, for example, would need to win seven matches across 11 days to take home the trophy, while 2002 champion Williams - who got to begin the tournament Sunday and was scheduled to play in the second round Wednesday - would have her seven matches spread over 14 days if she goes the distance.

Also among those who had yet to play a real point heading into Wednesday was 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The Day 4 program featured second-round matches for 2009 champion Federer and 2012 runner-up Sara Errani.

Tuesday's winners included 2010 French Open runner-up and 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur, who beat 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-0, 6-2.

"It was spitting a little bit when we went out there," Stosur said. "You think, 'Oh, are we going to start or are we not?' Lucky for me, I was able to finish the match before this last downpour came."

Another Australian, Bernard Tomic - whose father was barred from Roland Garros after being accused this month of head-butting Tomic's hitting partner - stopped because of a torn right hamstring while trailing Victor Hanescu 7-5, 7-6 (8), 2-1. Three other men retired during matches: No. 28 Florian Mayer (right thigh), Alejandro Falla (stomach problems), Simone Bolelli (right wrist).

No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 12 Tommy Haas and No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber and No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov advanced, along with 20-year-old American Jack Sock in his French Open debut.

If Dimitrov - he and Maria Sharapova are an item, so he was asked Tuesday about dealing with paparazzi - reaches the third round, he could face Djokovic. That would be an intriguing matchup, given that Dimitrov defeated Djokovic on clay at Madrid three weeks ago.

"This is the kind of matches I'd always want to play in," Dimitrov said. "I feel good on the big courts and playing against good players."

Djokovic found Goffin in possession of that same attitude.

In 2012, Goffin got into the French Open field as a "lucky loser" - someone who loses in qualifying but is put in the main draw because another player withdrew - and made it all the way to the fourth round. That's when Goffin got to face Federer, his idol, and even took a set off the owner of the most career major titles before losing the match.

"He has a good chance to have a good future," Djokovic said. "He likes playing here, obviously. He likes playing on a big stage."

Perhaps. But Tuesday's key moment came in the first-set tiebreaker, with Goffin serving at 5-all. After he faulted once, a fan yelled, "Allez, David!" The 22-year-old Goffin then proceeded to miss his second serve, too, for a double-fault that gave Djokovic a set point.

Goffin looked in the direction of the offending shout with palms up, as if to say, "What did you do that for?!"

"That's what happens sometimes. When you play in Davis Cup, you see that on every serve, basically," Goffin said. "Anyway, it was up to me to focus my mind. This is the type of thing that can happen, and can happen to anybody. So tough luck."

First Published: May 29, 2013 08:44 IST