Djokovic battles back in French Open epic match

"He played an incredible match. He was very, very close to winning."


Novak Djokovic avoided crashing to his worst defeat at the French Open in 15 years in the early hours of Sunday morning as title rival Alexander Zverev was also pushed to the limit.

Defending champion and 24-time Grand Slam title winner Djokovic came from two sets to one down to defeat Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti 7-5, 6-7 (6/8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in a third round tie which ended at 3:07 a.m. (0107 GMT).

His four-hour 29-minute victory also allowed the 37-year-old world number one to equal Roger Federer’s record of 369 Grand Slam match wins.

His reward is a clash with Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina for a place in the quarter-finals.

“I need to say congratulations to Lorenzo Musetti it’s a shame someone had to lose,” Djokovic said in his on-court TV interview.

“He played an incredible match. He was very, very close to winning.”

It was almost 10:45 p.m. (2045 GMT) on Saturday night when Djokovic and Musetti eventually took to Court Philippe Chatrier after a seventh day of rain had prompted officials to squeeze extra matches onto the covered show courts.

Djokovic retrieved an early break in the first set and broke again in the 12th game to secure the opener.

He was 3-1 up in the second before he was pinned back in the seventh game while wasting a set point in the tie-breaker.

Musetti, who had famously taken a two sets lead over Djokovic at the 2021 tournament before quitting in the decider with an injury,  was suddenly the fresher of the two as the clock ticked towards 2 a.m.

He swept through the third set courtesy of a double break.

Djokovic’s fighting spirit

However, in an astonishing turn around, Djokovic summoned his trademark fighting spirit and tenacity to level the tie with a double break of his own in the fourth set.

Musetti, 15 years Djokovic’s junior, suddenly saw his hopes fade as the Serb star completed victory with a forehand winner having reeled off 11 of the last 12 games.

World number four Zverev, who effectively ended Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros career in the first round, also needed five sets to beat Tallon Griekspoor 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (10/3).

The Dutchman had led 4-1 in the decider.

The 27-year-old German is playing under the shadow of an ongoing trial in Berlin over allegations of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

“Incredible match, incredible player. He’s unbelievably dangerous. I always struggle against him,” said Zverev after a four-hour, 14-minute marathon.

Zverev, the only player to reach the semi-finals at the last three French Opens, will next face Denmark’s Holger Rune.

Fifth seed Daniil Medvedev beat Tomas Machac 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 to reach the last 16 for the third time.

Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime booked a fourth round clash against Carlos Alcaraz after sweeping past Ben Shelton of the United States 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.

Casper Ruud, runner-up to Nadal and then Djokovic in the last two years, defeated Argentina’s Tomas Etcheverry 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 in a match which ended shortly before 1 a.m.

He will face Taylor Fritz who defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis in five sets.

Best of friends

World number two Aryna Sabalenka had the advantage of playing under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier where she stormed back to defeat close friend Paula Badosa.

Two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka downed the Spaniard 7-5, 6-1 by winning 10 of the last 11 games.

Badosa had served for the first set at 5-3 but was eventually over-powered by Sabalenka who is into the second week in Paris for the second year in a row.

Sabalenka, a semi-finalist in 2023, has made at least the last four at her past six Grand Slams and is expected to be Iga Swiatek’s chief rival in the Pole’s bid for a fourth French Open title.

“I just tried to play my best, play for every point. I knew I could come back,” said Sabalenka.

Next up for the Belarusian is a clash against US 22nd seed Emma Navarro who has made the fourth round of a major for the first time.

Rain pain

In an indication of the scheduling chaos, the women’s third round tie between Russia’s Mirra Andreeva and Peyton Stearns of the United States was moved from Court 6 to Court 7 and then Court 2.

The 17-year-old Andreeva eased to a 6-2, 6-1 victory in just 67 minutes and will next face Russian-born French player Varvara Gracheva.

Fourth seed Elena Rybakina advanced with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Belgium’s Elise Mertens.

However, Chinese seventh seed Zheng Qinwen was knocked out by Russia’s Elina Avanesyan.

Zheng, a semi-finalist at the Australian Open, went down 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10/6) to world number 70 Avanesyan who also made the fourth round in 2023.

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