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Tuesday 27 September 2016

Jubilant Novak the $100m man

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his fourth round of the French Open against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut at Roland Garros, Paris. Pic: David Vincent/AP
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his fourth round of the French Open against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut at Roland Garros, Paris. Pic: David Vincent/AP

Jubilant Novak had 100 million reasons to celebrate reaching the French Open quarter-finals yesterday, 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 Serbian world number one to become the first tennis player to bank $100 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.

After winning a match that was originally scheduled for Monday, began on Tuesday and was finally completed yesterday, the 29-year-old 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 said 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 9am and leaving at 7.30 or 8.0 pm.

"So that's the reason why we should have the roof here. I'm hoping we're going to have it very soon," 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 yesterday's on-court action.

Bogged

Serena Williams, who like Djokovic was bogged down in the fourth round for more than 48 hours, booked her place in the quarter-finals with a 6-1 6-1 walloping of Ukrainian 18th seed Elina Svitolina.

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).

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 any 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. It just seemed terrible," the American said.

French Open director Guy Forget, however, defended the tournament's actions.

"I understand that not refunding spectators with tickets to the Philippe Chatrier Court has caused frustration and anger," he said.

"If what we are being accused of were true, it would have been in our best interests as organisers to stop play before the one-hour, 59-minute mark as our insurer would have been responsible for ticket reimbursement.

"However, that was not the basis of our decision. Our aim was to play for as long as possible, even if that meant being criticised for playing in difficult conditions."

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