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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, June 2, 2023


Novak Djokovic withstood a tough Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, a left leg issue and some rude fans reaching the Roland Garros fourth round for the 14th straight year and 17th time overall.

Photo credit: Julian Finney/Getty

Hurling a huge right hand, Novak Djokovic swung with the force of a man intent on ready to wreak tremors on the Terre Battue.

All that activity happened after Djokovic captured the second set.

More: Fritz Calls Out Crowd

Even when the ball wasn't in play, Djokovic brought firecracker intensity to an entertaining Roland Garros test.

A fired-up Djokovic subdued Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and some rowdy French fans advancing to the Roland Garros fourth round for the 14th straight season time with a 7-6(4), 7-6(5), 6-2 victory.

This is Djokovic's 17th trip to the round of 16 as he raised his Roland Garros record to 88-16.

The two-time champion will play either 13th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz or 94th-ranked Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas for a semifinal spot.

On a day in which Italian Lorenzo Sonego rallied from a two-set deficit for the first time upsetting seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Djokovic solved all problems on Chatrier. 

The 35-year-old Serbian superstar avenged a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1 loss to Davidovich Fokina on red clay at the 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and saved his legs for the second-week battles to come.

"This was looking like if I lost one of the first two sets, it was looking like it was going to go four, five hours," Djokovic said. "It was just a kind of a day and conditions that were I think very challenging for both players physically. Lots of exchanges. Serve was really not an advantage for either of us.

"Really, I mean, it was cat and mouse every single point, trying to outsmart your opponent. We were doing a lot of running. Not just left, right, but forward and backward, especially when he was playing from that end where he is playing against the wind he was dropshotting a lot. He was making me work for every point. Yeah, I just have to be, in the end of the day when I draw a line, very content to win this match in three sets."

Continuing his quest for a men's record 23rd major championship, Djokovic overcame a left leg issue, struggles with the wind that saw him slap six double faults, some prickly fans who jeered him for taking treatment and the explosive Davidovich Fokina, who mixed bullet baseline drives with some fine drop shots to challenge the former No. 1. Djokovic saved a set point serving at 5-6, 30-40 in the second set.

This match could stand as a lesson to those French fans who flung derision Djokovic's way during the timeout.

If you taunt Djokovic, you run the risk of firing him up so much he'll turn your jeers into punch lines for his shot-making responses. Slamming down on skeptics, Djokovic has won 30 of 31 Slam sets played this season.

The relationship between the vocal French crowd, which reigned boos on American Taylor Fritz after he knocked out Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech and shushed fans on Thursday night, and contenders will be an intriguing subplot as the tournament gets into the second week.

Afterward, Djokovic said his relationship with French fans has been "up and down" over the years but generally feels he has support in Paris. 

"I think majority of the people comes to enjoy tennis or support one or the other player. But they are individuals," Djokovic said. "You know, they are people, they're groups or whatever, that love to boo every single thing you do. That's something that I find disrespectful and I frankly don't understand that. But it's their right. They paid the ticket. They can do whatever they want.

"At times, you know, I will stay quiet. Not at times. Actually 99% of the time I will stay quiet. Sometimes I will oppose that, because I feel when somebody is disrespectful, you know, he or she deserves to have an answer to that. That's what it is all about."

This has been one of the noisiest Roland Garros' in recent memory—perhaps French fans are cranky over the fact no French singles players remain or maybe the exquisite weather in Paris is invoking more crowd participation—and how players choose to respond to the occasional derision will be telling. Many choose to ignore it and invest all their energy on playing points.

Djokovic turns taunts to fuel to fire himself up and take out retribution on the ball, his opponent and yelling fans.

"You know, drama-free Grand Slam (smiling), I don't think it can happen for me," Djokovic said after defeating Marton Fucsovics in round two. "You know, I guess that drives me, as well."

Combating a swirling wind, the pair delivered dynamic rallies for two sets.

The speedy Spaniard is one of the few players who possess the athleticism and court coverage to hang with Djokovic in extended rallies. Davidovich Fokina dazzled with this bit of improvised around-the-net-post magic.

Deadlocked at 5-5, Djokovic slapped successive double faults to fall into a love-30 hole. Davidovich Fokina cracked a forehand and attacked, but could not handle a low Djokovic pass, nudging a stiff-legged volley into net.

Still, Djokovic was his own worst enemy coughing up a third double fault to face a break point. A jittery Djokovic played a defensive point and Davidovich Fokina stepped in rapping his two-hander into the corner to break for 6-5.

Serving for the set, the Spaniard caught a bad bounce and shoveled a forehand into net, then sailed a forehand to face double break point. When Davidovich Fokina missed a backhand down the line, Djokovic broke back and coach Goran Ivanisevic jumped to his feet ready for the tiebreaker.

Unleashing some heavy forehand strikes, Davidovich Fokina gained the early mini break and a 3-1 lead.

A dialed-in Djokovic increased the depth of his drives and refused to miss winning five of the next six points for set points.

Lunging into the doubles alley on the full stretch, Djokovic swept an acute angle forehand return sealing the one hour, 23 minute opener with a bolt of brilliance.

Both men won exactly 46 points in an opening set of high quality and dizzying drama.

How would the Spaniard respond after falling short in that physical first set? Undaunted, Davidovich Fokina exploited Djokovic's fifth double fault to break for a 2-0 second-set lead.

Each time the Spaniard made a push, Djokovic responded. Djokovic broke back twice in a row wrenching a 3-2 lead.

Adjusting his serve to the windy side continued to pose problems for Djokovic, who blew a 30-0 lead, hit his sixth double fault and missed a forehand to give back the break in the sixth game.

The Wimbledon winner's backhand helped him bang out the crucial break in the ninth game. Angling a crosscourt backhand to stretch the Spaniard on his approach, Djokovic buried a backhand pass into the hip drawing a netted volley to break for a 5-4 second-set lead.

At one point, French fans jeered as Djokovic took treatment for a left leg issue. While sitting on his seat, Djokovic raised a sarcastic thumbs up to noisy fans then waved his hands encouraging them to make more noise.

Serving for the set, Djokovic's dedicated pre-serve ball-bouncing extended then Davidovich Fokina squeezed a superb backhand pass down the line for triple break point. That strike helped rattle out the love break for the Spaniard to forge a 5-5 tie.

Tension ratcheted up as Davidovich Fokina hammered his two-hander off the top of the tape and it dribbled slightly wide of the sideline for break point.

Showing nerves, Djokovic mis-hit a backhand return then botched an easy backhand volley into net as the Spaniard survived with a 6-5 hold.

The third seed saved a set point drawing a Davidovich Fokina error and fired a forehand into the corner to force the second-set tiebreaker.

The two-time champion went up 4-1 only to see Davidovich Fokina flick a pair of soft drop shots to get back to 4-all.

At 5-all, Djokovic dug in and won a crackling rally, extending it with a stretch forehand, regaining his balance and court position then pounding a diagonal forehand for a set point at 6-5.

Two hours, 48 minutes into this fight Davidovich Fokina missed a backhand to end the set. Djokovic took a two-set lead erupted in a primarl scream and unleashed a series of furious fist pumps seemingly directed at some fans who had jeered him earlier.

That emotional celebration prompted a mix of both cheers and jeers from French fans.

The two-set lead empowered Djokovic, who burst out to a 4-1 third-set lead and never looked back.


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