By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic had 100 million reasons to celebrate reaching the French Open quarter-finals on Wednesday — albeit two days later than expected — as players finally cleared the fourth-round backlog created by the fickle Parisian weather.
After relentless rain washed out all but two hours of play over the previous two days, under-fire Roland Garros organisers said such conditions had not been seen since 1873 as they frantically tried to play catch-up by staging 12 singles matches — instead of just four quarter-finals as is the norm — on day 11 of the sodden championships.
That allowed world number one Djokovic to become the first tennis player to bank $100 million (£69.3 million) in prize money after his 3-6 6-4 6-1 7-5 win over Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut tipped him over the magic number.
Having won a match that was originally scheduled for Monday, begun on Tuesday and completed on Wednesday, the 29-year-old Serb will have to play four days in succession if he is to reach Sunday’s title showdown.
“I have the feeling I played three matches against him,” a grinning Djokovic told the crowd after donning a yellow rain hat during his victory speech.
“Yesterday the match was interrupted three times and it wasn’t easy coming here at 9 am and leaving at 7.30 or 8:00 pm.
“So that’s the reason why we should have the roof here,” added the Serb, who joined the likes of golfer Tiger Woods and boxer Lennox Lewis in the $100 million club.
However, rather than getting worked up about the French Open not having any court cover like the other three majors, it was the organisers’ decision to make the players compete in misty rain on Tuesday that overshadowed Wednesday’s on-court action.
Serena Williams, who like Djokovic was bogged down in the fourth round for more than 48 hours, booked her place in the quarter-finals by walloping Ukrainian 18th seed Elina Svitolina 6-1 6-1. She will next face Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva.
In the bottom half of the men’s draw, Andy Murray doused some early fireworks from Frenchman Richard Gasquet to win 5-7 7-6(3) 6-0 6-2 to set up a blockbuster semi-final against holder Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss beat Albert Ramos (Spain) 6-2 6-1 7-6(7).
RAIN PLAY STILL A HOT TOPIC
But the hot topic of the day remained what the organisers did, or did not do, on Tuesday.
Djokovic’s victim Bautista Agut said officials had “pushed us to play two hours yesterday” — the threshold needed to avoid reimbursing money to ticket-holders — while Venus Williams labelled the conditions “really bad” after being ambushed 6-2 6-4 by Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky.
“The conditions were not playable yesterday. It’s hard to see. The balls are wet, the courts are wet,” said the American, whose defeat ended hopes of an all-Williams semi-final.
French Open director Guy Forget defended the tournament’s actions.
“I understand that not refunding spectators …. has caused frustration and anger,” he said.
“If what we are being accused of were true, it would have been in our best interests to stop play before the one-hour, 59-minute mark as our insurer would have been responsible for ticket reimbursement.
“However… our aim was to play for as long as possible, even if that meant being criticised for playing in difficult conditions.”
Djokovic will be hoping he does not face another soggy day on Thursday when he is scheduled to contest his 28th successive major quarter-final against Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych, a 6-3 7-5 6-3 winner over 2013 runner-up David Ferrer.
Austrian tyro Dominic Thiem was enjoying his most successful run at a grand slam after beating Spaniard Marcel Granollers 6-2 6-7(2) 6-1 6-4 to set up a last-eight clash with Belgian David Goffin.
Venus Williams’ eighth-seeded conqueror Bacsinszky, describing herself as “a chameleon” who can adapt to “every type of court”, will next face Dutch outsider Kiki Bertens who downed American 15th seed Madison Keys 7-6(4) 6-3.
Already in the semi-finals though are Spanish fourth seed Garbine Muguruza and 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur.
Fourth seed Muguruza ended the run of 108th-ranked American Shelby Rogers with a 7-5 6-3 win, while 2010 Paris finalist Stosur beat Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4 7-6(6).
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ossian Shine and John Stonestreet)
Copyright 2016 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.