French Open: Big names win
PARIS ó What was shaping up as a struggle for Novak Djokovic at the French Open suddenly turned into something of a stroll.
Tied at a set apiece with big-hitting 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro when play was suspended because of darkness a night earlier, Djokovic quickly faced two break points Saturday. He saved those, then broke del Potro in the next game, and that was pretty much that.
ěIf he serves well, he can beat anybody, really,î Djokovic said. ěI went (into) the match a bit more nervous than usual.î
If thatís so, it didnít really show. Djokovic completed a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the third round, pushing his 2011 record to 40-0 and stretching his winning streak to 42 matches overall, including two Davis Cup matches in December.
Djokovicís 42-match run is tied for the third-longest by a man in the Open era, which began in 1968; Guillermo Vilas won 46 in a row in 1977. And Djokovic is off to the second-best start to a season, trailing only John McEnroeís 42-0 in 1984.
As it happens, the 24-year-old Serb ran into McEnroe at Roland Garros on Saturday, and they chatted. Asked whether McEnroe was one of his favorite players, Djokovic replied with a smile: ěNothing against his age, but itís just that I was still quite young when he stopped playing.î
McEnroe said recently he finds Djokovicís streak more impressive than his own, because of the current depth in menís tennis, and because it includes a Grand Slam title ó at Januaryís Australian Open, which was played at seasonís end in 1984.
Djokovic, who will be in action for a third straight day today when he faces No. 13 Richard Gasquet of France, said a third major championship ó and first at the French Open ó takes priority over any other possible goal at the moment. If he gets to the final, heíll take over the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal.
Heís 41-1 in his French Open career and bidding to tie Bjorn Borgís mark of six titles at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
Twenty-eight of the 32 players still around in both fields are from Europe. That includes three Russian women who won Saturday: No. 7 Maria Sharapova, No. 25 Maria Kirilenko and unseeded Ekaterina Makarova.
Also advancing: No. 4 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, No. 6 Li Na of China, No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, and No. 15 Andrea Petkovic of Germany.
Kirilenko put together a 6-1, 6-1 victory that abruptly ended the surprising run of 114th-ranked Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, who stunned No. 2 Kim Clijsters in the second round by taking 11 of the last 12 games.
Sharapova also needed a big comeback to win her previous match ó she claimed the final 11 games after trailing a 17-year-old wild-card entry ó but faced no such trouble in beating Chan Yung-jan of Taiwan 6-2, 6-3.
With the Clijsters out, and the Williams sisters sidelined after health issues, Sharapovaís three major titles give her the same number as the other 15 women still around combined.
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