World No1 Novak Djokovic confesses he had to fight hard for his first round win over an inspired David Goffin but feels good stepping back on Centre Court despite the wet weather and difficult conditions.
Djokovic may have won in straight sets but was forced to elevate his game when it really mattered to overcome the young Belgian – who made the fourth round last year – 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-5 in two hours and 13 minutes, after a long day of waiting for the rain to stop.
“Conditions were quite tricky,” said the top-seeded Serb. “But it was the same adjustment for me and my opponent and for many players. It was a difficult day because we were waiting for hours and hours. I think I warmed up five or six times.
“He was playing really nice tennis from the baseline. It was a tough match. I needed to fight all the way through every set.”
Djokovic next faces 23-year-old Argentine Guido Pella, who beat two of Djokovic’s countrymen Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki in back-to-back matches in Dusseldorf last week en route to the semi-finals there.
Grigor Dimitrov remains on course to face Djokovic in the third round after the Bulgarian rising star advanced to second round the easy way when his Colombian opponent Alejandro Falla retired from their match while trailing 4-6, 0-1.
The 22-year-old, who beat Djokovic at the recent Madrid Masters and has risen to No28 in the world rankings, said: “I don’t think I should feel any pressure at the moment. I mean, I’m into the second round of a slam. There’s nothing better than that. It’s a great feeling.
“Of course I saw the draw, and I’ll be happy to face Djokovic. I mean, these are the kind of matches I’d always want to play in. I feel good on the big courts and playing against good players.”
French hope Benoit Paire was unable to finish his battle against former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis as their match was suspended for darkness with Paire leading 3-6, 7-6(1), 4-3.
Gael Monfils rewarded the home crowd that stayed until close to 21:00 to witness the Frenchman outlast world No6 Tomas Berdych 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-7 (4), 7-5 in a four hour and three minutes marathon.
Monfils, who was in Nice up until last Saturday where he lost the final to Albert Montanes, had dropped to No119 in the rankings having suffered a series of knee injuries but the former world No7 is clawing his way back up the rankings (he is currently at 81) and posted the biggest upset of the tournament so far when he took out the fifth-seeded Berdych.
The entertaining Frenchman – who we started off the match commenting on his bizarre and poorly chosen outfit – won a Challenger in Bordeaux two weeks ago, before his good week in Nice, and comes to Roland Garros having played 10 matches in less than a fortnight. Despite his concerns over his fitness levels heading into the match, Monfils managed to compete over four hours against the No5 seed.
When asked how he can explain his form, he said: “My only answer is I worked. I worked and I believed in myself.
“I have gone through very difficult moments, so necessarily you get tougher.
“It's very strange, but here it's magic here. It's magic. It's a place where I feel really good, and I can go beyond myself and play a type of tennis I wouldn't even think of.”
Meanwhile a dejected Berdych rued his missed chances in the final set, where he converted zero out of four break points. When asked what made the difference in the end after he launched a comeback and levelled the match, the Czech said: “I had one chance in the fifth set. I didn’t make it. He made one, so he made it. That’s absolutely what was the difference between us today.
“He’s playing at home and he’s a great player. He made a good decision to come back in the right time and I just hope that his form is going to stay with him for a long time.”
For Monfils, he believes the crucial moment came late in the final set. He said: “I started believing in it even more because I believed I would win during the whole match, but it's 5 5, 0 15 (in the fifth set).
“The forehand, my forehand at that moment, that's when I thought, yeah, I saw the light. I was tired, and I tried it. I had not tried such a big forehand like this one. And what was strange, strange enough, I saw his reaction, his body language, and that's when I thought ‘okay, there is something, something, put pressure on him’.”
Monfils has another tough test ahead of him in the form of Ernests Gulbis. It's safe to saw we won't be caring what the Frenchman will be wearing.
* You can follow the author on @ReemAbulleil
Tennis is often accused of being stale but I have to say there are still some outrageous things that are happening on and off court and a handful of very charismatic personalities present on both tours.
While Ernests Gulbis was busy telling us he didn’t think Novak Djokovic is not the most talented guy on tour, over on Suzanne Lenglen, Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky pulled out his iPhone to snap a picture and document a disputed line call during his match with Richard Gasquet. He got a warning but the crowd certainly liked it.
This isn’t the first time Stako’s done it either. He did it in Munich a few weeks back and tweeted the picture of the mark later. Funny enough, most tennis players tweeted him back saying he was wrong. Let’s see what they think about Monday’s mark.
Earlier in the day, Caroline Wozniacki got teased about her golf swing in the press room when she was asked whether she would work on her game for next year’s Masters. The Dane had scuffed a tee shot in Augusta while caddying for her beau Rory McIlroy in the Par-3 Contest.
The former world No1 immediately defended herself saying: “I told Rory ‘I am not going to hit a ball at the par 3, there is no chance. He goes ‘okay. I respect that.’ What does he do on the ninth? Tees it up, gives me the club and goes ‘here you go’. I'm like ‘first of all, I'm not prepared; second of all, I don't want to hit the shot. He said ‘I don't think you have a choice now because the crowd is going crazy’.”
Wozniacki took it all in good fun though and shared some tweets she had received that were mocking her shot, including one from Andy Roddick who joked that the grass went farther than the ball.
Meanwhile, French veteran Fabrice Santoro, the Magician, and former champion Guga Kuerten were happy Roland Garros visitors, although the popular Brazilian was not too impressed with the crocodile gummy bears on offer at the Lacoste Lounge, tweeting: "Desert avec elegance,,, ehehehe!!!"
The day ended with Philippe Chatrier roaring for Gael Monfils, returning from injury, ranked as low as 81, fresh off a final run in Nice on Saturday, and taking out Tomas Berdych in a four-hour five-set battle. As I felt the press room shake the crowd going crazy above us, and watched LaMonf on my monitor tapping his chest looking towards his team, all I could think of was: “SO MUCH HEART!”
* You can follow the author on @ReemAbulleil