HOT COCK D JOK:
Nole Cakes defeats Robby Ginepri: 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2.
It looked like a mismatch, the No. 3 player in the world against someone who took a van to Roland Garros; a former Australian Open champion against someone who lost there in the first round this year because he could barely move his neck.
Novak Djokovic and Robby Ginepri were an unlikely pairing in the fourth round of the French Open. Splitting the first two sets, however, they seemed a pretty good match.
But Djokovic moved on to the quarterfinals, at turns wincing and heaving and limping, by slowly slipping past Ginepri.
Djokovic has struggled with allergies, and said a couple of days earlier that the dust from the courts, blown around by windy conditions, had taken a toll.
Early in the match on a cloudy but still day, Djokovic’s chest heaved even after short points. He blew his nose during changes. He was all-negative body language as he won the first set by breaking Ginepri in the ninth game.
Ginepri became the yin to Djokovic’s yang. In his first match at Chatrier, the top stage at Roland Garros, he played with energy and poise, and pounced on Djokovic’s sluggishness. Ginepri stole a serve in the second set’s third game, then took another on the way to tying the match at a set apiece.
Ginepri, 27, had never won a set off Djokovic in four previous losses.
Early in the third set, the result in balance, Ginepri fell while scrambling back on a ball. He found himself on his belly and did a few push-ups, delighting the fans.
Djokovic awakened, breaking Ginepri in that game.
“I slipped on the overhead at 15-30 and, you know, did a few pushups,” Ginepri said. “Never doing those again on court. I think that kind of changed the momentum a little bit.”
Suddenly it was Djokovic with the energy, and he eased through two sets to take the victory.
For a time it looked as if Djokovic would squander what appeared to be a relatively clear path to the semifinals and a possible match against Rafael Nadal. Several dangerous opponents, such as David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Andy Roddick, had been extinguished.
Djokovic would play either Teimuraz Gabashvili, a qualifier, or the veteran Jurgen Melzer, the 22nd seed who had never surpassed the round of 16 in a Grand Slam event.
It was Melzer, the 29-year-old Austrian, who advanced with a 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory. He is the oldest player left in the draw and is fashioning a bit of late-career renaissance. He is likely to reach the world’s top 20 for the first time in his career.
Ginepri, too, seems to have rediscovered his youth. His topsy-turvy career seemed in the balance after a quick exit at the Australian Open. He struggled to twist his head to serve until he had a procedure done to stanch nerve endings in his neck.
He won just one tour-level match all season and was not sure if he would make the main draw at the French Open. Ranked 98th, he was practicing against fellow American Sam Querrey in Dusseldörf, Germany, when the brackets were announced. Ginepri and Querrey were paired in the first round, and they were part of a crew that piled into a van and drove together to Paris.
Ginepri beat the 18th-seeded Querrey, then Pitito Starace, then No. 16 Juan Carlos Ferrero in five sets to reach the fourth round. It matched his four-round run two years earlier, but also brought to mind the 2005 United States Open. Ginepri, who was runner-up to Andy Roddick in the juniors tournament there five years earlier, had fallen out of the top 100. But he strung together a series of victories before finally falling to Andre Agassi in five sets.
This time, he was trying to become the first American man to reach the quarterfinals here since Agassi in 2003.
Every deep run into a big tournament seems like another fresh start for Ginepri. But for his opponent on Monday, such runs are expected every time.