The men played in the 8pm night session - what a surprise. But the last one of the 2021 tournament was in front of spectators who enjoyed themselves thoroughly. They shouted and bawled and Mexican-waved away as Novak Djokovic seemed intent on sending them all home well before the 11pm curfew. He failed and they railed. And would not be moved.
Au revoir les nuits
The gods of equality spoke at the final night session at the 2021 French Open. Of the 11 clashes, only two featured women. The last session pitted top seed Novak Djokovic - his second appearance - against the ninth seed Matteo Berrettini. For their quarter-final, up to 5,000 fans were allowed into centre court after the French government lifted some of the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It started at 8pm - a potential public relations disaster of a time. Pure poker. And the bluffers who did the deal with Amazon nearly got away with it. Djokovic won the first two sets in 90 minutes. But the third went to a tiebreak and was won by Berrettini after 58 minutes. The people would not get to see a victor before 11pm. And that's when they're supposed to be home - not in transit. When the punters were asked to leave at around 10.30pm, they booed and they whistled. They were not happy. And so they stayed. Come 10.55pm, play was stopped and the fans who had been yelling for their favourites, were sent into the night. About 50 refused to budge but they eventually left when some chunky security bods arrived. Play resumed at 11.15pm. And Djokovic won around 35 minutes later. Should have started at 7pm. And put on a women's singles match.
Maria Sakkari was a study in fist-clenching during her 95-minute triumph over the defending champion Iga Swiatek. Sakkari hit a winner, she clenched her fist. Swiatek hit a shot into the net, Sakkari clenched her fist. Unsurprisingly, when Sakkari had won to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final, she clenched both fists. The review would not recommend asking her if she is combative.
Rafael Nadal used to be a fist-clencher sans pareil in his younger days. He would almost kneel on the floor as he punched through the air two or three times. There were occasional fist-pumping scampers along the baseline and you knew it was a key point when he let out a “vamos”. We particularly liked the knee lifted high, the primal roar and the clenched fist. That’s when he was a young pup with energy to burn. Now he’s 35 and the celebrations are comparatively sedate. But we were whirled back to yesteryear when Rafa held for 4-4 in the third set against Diego Schwartzman. He thrust both arms out and clenched both fists. It was the beginning of the end for Diego who lost the next eight games as Nadal took the third 6-4 and the fourth 6-0. “It’s not my mindset to come here and think that losing a set is going to be a disaster," said Nadal after losing his first set at the tournament since the 2019 final. “You are facing the best players of the world. The thing that matters is how you recover from a lost set.”
New name and nerves
With the elimination of Iga Swiatek, there will be a new name on the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen - the women’s trophy. None of the four women’s semi-finalists - Maria Sakkari, Barbora Krejcikova, Tamara Zidansek and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - have been anywhere near a singles final in a Grand Slam tournament. There are likely to be lots of nerves as they take to centre court for the semi-finals on Day 12.
A tasty sub-plot merges in the men’s draw following the advance of top seed Novak Djokovic to the semi-final from the night PR disaster. The 34-year-old Serb will take on the 35-year-old defending champion Rafael Nadal on Day 13 for a place in Sunday’s final. The seasoned warhorses will meet for the 58th time. Djokovic has claimed 29 of their encounters. In the semi-final in the bottom half of the draw, fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas will play sixth seed Alex Zverev, who at 24, is two years his senior. They have battled seven times before with Tsitsipas winning five of the clashes. Neither have won a Grand Slam tournament whereas Nadal and Djokovic have snaffled 38 of the baubles between them. Old v young. Veteran v tyro. Something has got to give.