Novak Djokovic huffed and puffed his way into the French Open fourth round with a 7-6(4), 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Spanish 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Friday.
Djokovic, who is aiming to leapfrog injured champion Rafael Nadal and win a record 23rd grand slam title, came into the match on Court Philippe Chatrier having lost to Davidovich Fokina the last time they met in Monte Carlo.
“I knew it was going to be a very difficult match, a very physical match,” Djokovic said. “We played three hours for only two sets. He contested very well. “He is an amazing fighter and an amazing player. He has very few weaknesses in his game. Congratulations to him for fighting. Bad luck, but he played a great match.”
The 36-year-old Serbian was given an early reminder of his struggles in that 2022 match by the man-bun sporting Davidovich Fokina, who had the world number three tied up in knots with some heavy hitting and breathtaking drop shots.
Elise Mertens on way to upsetting world No. 3 Jessica Pegula. Getty Images
Djokovic creaked on serve but hit back when it mattered to level at 3-3 and edged the 83-minute first set with a blistering crosscourt winner that drew huge roars.
A charged-up Djokovic responded to an early break with two of his own but dropped serve again in the wildly swinging second set, before shrugging off three double faults at 5-5 and a time violation to double his advantage in another tiebreak.
He called the trainer onto court for an apparent left leg issue, sparking fears the injury that accompanied his run to the Australian Open title in January had returned, but pulled away in the third set and crossed the finish line in style.
“A win is a win. The first two sets, three hours, I thought if I lose the second set, I will probably be playing five hours today,” said Djokovic, who will play 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz or Juan Pablo Varillas in the next round.
Russian 11th seed Karen Khachanov stopped wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis. Khachanov looked to be in trouble midway through his match against Kokkinakis but stepped up his game in the crunch moments to get past his Australian opponent 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(5).
World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka swatted aside Russian Kamilla Rakhimova 6-2, 6-2 to move into the fourth round.
Sabalenka, however, skipped the traditional post-match press conference, citing mental health reasons.
She instead released an interview with the tournament organisers in which she said she had not felt safe at a press conference on Wednesday, an event where she was asked about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and her country’s role as a staging ground for Russian troops and weapons.
Sabalenka said that her choice not to take part in Friday’s press conference was supported by the French Open organisers.
World No. 3 Jessica Pegula had never beaten Elise Mertens in two previous meetings and the American’s hopes of snapping that run to remain on track for a maiden grand slam trophy ended in disappointment following a 6-1, 6-3 defeat.
The 29-year-old Pegula particularly struggled against the versatility of Mertens, who ran her opponent ragged with some delightful sliced forehands, drops, lobs and deep shots to breeze through the match in 82 minutes.
Daria Kasatkina was even quicker across the finish line against another American as the ninth seed dropped only one game in her win over Peyton Stearns.
“I have to be quick because I’m not that powerful like many girls,” Kasatkina explained. “Physically I’m not that gifted, so I have to be quick. I have to find ways to win, to survive.”
Former French Open quarter-finalist Elina Svitolina moved into the fourth round with a determined performance to stave off giant-killing Russian Anna Blinkova and claim a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 runner-up, got off to a slow start before finishing strong to down 24th seed Anastasia Potapova 4-6 6-3 6-0 to book a clash with Mertens.