By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, April 20, 2017
Novak Djokovic subdued Pablo Carreno Busta, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to reach the Monte Carlo quarterfinals for the eighth time.
Photo credit: Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters
A day after declaring he has no fear, Novak Djokovic made a spirited stand to survive another scare.
Staring down double break point at 4-all in the decider, Djokovic drilled a bold strike down the line to spark a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over Pablo Carreno Busta that sent him into the Monte Carlo quarterfinals for the eighth time.
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The 30-time Masters champion will play David Goffin for a semifinal spot.
The 10th-seeded Belgian outdueled Dominic Thiem, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, avenging a four-set French Open quarterfinal loss last season. Goffin raised his record to an ATP-best 22-7 in advancing to his fourth quarterfinal of the season. Djokovic is 5-0 lifetime against Goffin, winning 11 of the 12 sets they’ve played.
On a day in which world No. 1 Andy Murray blew a 4-0 third-set lead and fell to Albert Ramos-Vinolas and third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, bowed to Pablo Cuevas, 6-4, 6-4, Djokovic was pushed to the edge for the second straight match.
Gilles Simon served for the match against Djokovic yesterday only to see the Serbian fall back on his survival skills to prevail in three.
“I don’t fear anyone,” Djokovic said after the comeback. “I like to call it optimistic about myself and my chances in every tournament. I think I've earned the right to be optimistic everywhere I play, everywhere I go, because of the career and results that I've had.”
Winless in 15 career matches vs. Top 10 opponents, including a 6-0, 6-1, thrashing to Djokovic at the 2014 Monte Carlo, Carreno Busta looked overmatched at the outset.
Commanding the center of the court, Djokovic dictated play lashing his forehand into the corners.
Deadlocked at 2-all, Djokovic amped up aggression tearing through six straight games for a 6-2, 2-0 lead.
The 13th-seeded Spaniard requires a little more time to generate his topspin strokes. Djokovic displaced him with depth and drew an error scoring his third straight break for a 2-0 second-set lead. At that point, the finish line seemed a formality.
Carreno Busta answered with a five game run of his own.
Two issues triggered Djokovic’s slide. The second seed struggled to sustain the rhythm and timing on his forehand, which failed him at times during the second set and a stubborn Carreno Busta patiently picked away at that wounded wing.
On the same court where Alexander Zverev emotionally capitulated to nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in a flat effort, Carreno Busta kept battling.
The newly-bearded Spaniard grinded through a 27-shot rally when Djokovic dragged a forehand into net. Carreno Busta broke back on an error for 1-2 then backed up the break at 30.
A calm commitment to the cause and the patience to continue to chip away at his opponent’s forehand spiked the charge. Missing a forehand, Djokovic was muttering to himself in frustration behind the baseline when he netted a forehand to face break point. Djokovic saved it but pasted his third forehand error of the game to face a second break point.
Exhaling audibly, Djokovic dumped a double fault into net dropping serve for the second time in a row.
Late-afternoon sun was waning as Djokovic tried sorting out his forehand issues. Swinging freely, Carreno Busta was hitting with more depth, while the two-time champion sometimes struggled to strike his forehand on balance. At times Djokovic jammed himself hitting to close to his body and other times he was lunging for the ball off balance searching for the ideal contact point.
Carreno Busta cranked a backhand pass crosscourt then coaxed Djokovic into further donation breaking for his fifth straight game and a 5-2 lead.
Bypassing his court-side seat on the changeover, Djokovic walked directly to the other side of the court and then broke to halt his slide.
Thumping a forehand down the line, Carreno Busta earned triple set point in the 10th game. Djokovic saved the first two set points, but too much air under a forehand drop shot on the third. Carreno Busta dashed up to the ball and knocked off a crosscourt backhand, leveling after 91 minutes. Djokovic won just three of 15 second-serve points in the set.
Denying the first break point of the decisive set, Carreno Busta held for 2-all.
Taking quicker preparation steps, Djokovic moved with more urgency. Adjusting smoothly to a net-cord pass, Djokovic leaped for a high forehand volley earning two more break points. Carreno Busta saved both, including winning an 18-shot rally. By then, he’d saved eight of 12 break points.
A netted drop shot gave Djokovic another drop shot. This time, he danced up to a mid-court ball and zapped a diagonal forehand for the key break and a 4-2 lead.
Squandering a 40-15 lead, Djokovic saved a break point but pushed routine backhand volley wide to face a second break point. Scampering around the red clay, Carreno Busta continued to dig out replies. A high lob tested Djokovic’s sporadic overhead coaxing a netted smash as the Spaniard was back on serve.
In the ninth game, Djokovic was teetering facing double break point. Carreno Busta lined up a backhand and with his opponent slipping near the baseline, he netted the shot and covered his mouth with his hand in astonishment. On the second break point, Djokovic cracked a courageous forehand that caught the edge of the sideline. A stinging serve and forehand winner sealed the hold for 5-4.
Blowing a 40-15 lead in the ensuing game, Carreno Busta committed three errors to face match point. Djokovic finished with a flourish sweeping a forehand swing volley to end a wild two hour, 26-minute match.