PARIS (AP)—After years and years of failing to reach the latter stages of a Grand Slam tournament, Austria’s Jurgen Melzer was not about to go quietly in the French Open quarterfinals.
Even if he was playing No. 3-seeded Novak Djokovic, the 2008 Australian Open champion.
Even if he dropped the first two sets and was down a break at 2-0 in the third.
What was the 22nd-seeded Melzer telling himself at that moment?
“Just don’t go away,” Melzer said. “Just don’t make it easy for him.”
Melzer reeled off seven consecutive games, completely changing the complexion and momentum of the match, and came all the way back to beat Serbia’s Djokovic 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-4 Wednesday and reach the semifinals at Roland Garros.
The 29-year-old Melzer, this year’s oldest quarterfinalist, never before had been past the third round at a major tournament in 31 previous tries dating to 2000.
And never before had he won a match after dropping the first two sets.
“I got back in, and … it was an open match,” said Melzer, who will face four-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in Friday’s semifinals. “I think I got a little under (Djokovic’s) skin after the third set.”
So did the chair umpire, Carlos Bernardes.
Djokovic was angered by two rulings, but one in particular. With Melzer serving for the match in the fifth set at 5-4, love-15, Djokovic hit a cross-court forehand that landed near a sideline and was called good by a line judge. That would have made it love-30, putting Djokovic within two points of tying things at 5-0.
But Bernardes climbed down from his perch, checked the mark and overruled the call, saying the ball was out. Djokovic argued briefly, even going up to the net and leaning over it while making his case. But Bernardes didn’t budge.
“There was no space between the line and the mark, and that means the ball is good. I don’t know why the chair umpire (made) that decision,” said Djokovic, twice a French Open semifinalist in the past. “I mean, for somebody that is a chair umpire, and (with) so many years and years experience, to make such a mistake at that point is unbelievable. … Even on the TV, you could see it was good.”
Djokovic did concede that he “can’t blame” Bernardes for the outcome, because “that’s one call.”
After that, Melzer had some trouble finishing things. At 40-30, his first match point, Melzer missed what should have been a simple forehand volley, dumping it in the net.
“Well, I just thought, ‘OK, get another one and make that one.’ Of course, it was an easy volley. I have missed a lot of these volleys in my life,” Melzer said. “I don’t like them too much.”
He managed to recover, erasing two break points for Djokovic, but then couldn’t convert on his second match point, either, missing a difficult forehand. But he did make good on his third match point, sealing the victory after 4 hours, 15 minutes.
“We were both tired, and everything hurt,” Melzer said. “I just got through.”
Things don’t figure to get any easier now.
Melzer is 0-2 against Nadal, who stretched his current winning streak on clay to 20 matches by beating No. 19 Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-4 in an all-Spanish quarterfinal.
The other men’s semifinal Friday will be No. 5 Robin Soderling of Sweden against No. 15 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. Soderling upset defending champion Roger Federer on Tuesday night; a year ago, Soderling ended Nadal’s 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.
Asked in an on-court interview Wednesday about Federer’s loss, Nadal said: “Sorry for him, because he did amazing last year and he deserved this title.”
Pressed to anoint himself the man to beat, Nadal declined, saying: “Right now, there is no one favorite.”
Nadal encountered problems only briefly Wednesday, when Almagro took a 3-0 lead.
“I started terrible,” Nadal said.
But he won the next three games, then was dominant in both tiebreakers.
Otherwise, his only hassle came when chair umpire Carlos Ramos chastised him twice for taking too much time between points, a common lament from Nadal’s opponents.
“I thought I was being very fast. I didn’t even take the time to wipe my face,” said Nadal, who is wearing a luxury watch worth more than $400,000 (nearly 350,000 euros) during his matches. “I couldn’t be any quicker, honestly. I think the second warning was not a warning I deserved. But, well, OK. I have a watch. I could have checked it. I didn’t.”