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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, June 4, 2023


Novak Djokovic dismantled Juan Pablo Varillas 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to soar into a Roland Garros quarterfinal vs. 11th-seeded Karen Khachanov.

Photo credit: Clive Mason/Getty

Gliding across Roland Garros' rust-colored stage, tennis iron man Novak Djokovic delivered heavy mettle in his march toward history.

A focused Djokovic dismantled Juan Pablo Varillas 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to soar into a Roland Garros record 17th quarterfinal.

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It's 12 sets up and 12 sets down for Djokovic in Paris and this was his most impressive match of the tournament against an opponent playing just his third major.

Continuing his hunt for a men's record 23rd major championship, Djokovic charged into his 14th consecutive French Open quarterfinal where he will face familiar foe Karen Khachanov for a spot in the final four.

"I'm proud of it, but my attention is already in the next match," Djokovic said. "I mean, obviously quarterfinals, Khachanov, I know what my goal is here. I'm trying to stay mentally the course and of course not look too far.

"Obviously the performance of today gives me a great deal of confidence about how I felt, about how I played. So I'm looking forward to the next match."

Earlier, Khachanov rallied for a 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-1 win over Italian Lorenzo Sonego to reach his third consecutive major quarterfinal.

Since Khachanov upset Djokovic 7-5, 6-4 in the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters final, the 35-year-old Serbian superstar has won seven straight winning 15 of the last 16 sets the pair have played. During Djokovic's seven-match winning streak, he swept Khachanov 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the 2020 Roland Garros fourth round.

"Against him, you need to play really good chess, I mean, I guess to beat him," said Khachanov, who is 1-8 lifetime vs. Djokovic. "But definitely I will prepare tomorrow. You know, it's one day between, like always, to analyze with your team what you can do better, let's say.

"We will watch some points, some matches from him, and then make a plan basically."

Sporting a Taopatch on his chest during this tournament, Djokovic jokingly referred to himself as "the Iron Man of tennis" in his last post-match presser and displayed all of his tennis powers today.

In his most dynamic clay-court match of the season, Djokovic produced a comprehensive performance against the 94th-ranked Peruvian. Operating from all areas of the court with control, Djokovic served 80 percent, smacked 20 more winners (35 to 15) and won 15 of 17 trips to net.

The third-seeded Serbian also won over fans, some of whom booed him when he took treatment for a leg injury in his third-round win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. By the end of today's one hour, 57-minute conquest, fans where chanting "Nole! Nole! Nole!" prompting Djokovic to offer his outstretched arms in a symbolic embrace of fans who have been fickle toward him at times over the years.

The third seed snapped Varillas' inspired Cinderella run that saw him become the first Peruvian to reach the fourth round since Jaime Yzaga in 1994. Afterward, Varillas said Djokovic's ball control was destructive.

"Maybe he was too solid from the baseline, playing really close to the lines, serving really high percentage of first serves," Varillas said. "I couldn't do that. Also, I couldn't defend the way I was defending the other days. He was very precise when he had the opportunities to break.

"So I think I had maybe a chance to be in the game in the first set, but then it was all him."

Tennis Express

Trumpets blared over the sound system after the warm-up as if heralding Djokovic, who carried a 16-0 French Open fourth round record into this match.

Djokovic closed out the 43-minute first set when Varillas stuck a forehand into the net. Djokovic served 81 percent in the opening set and streaked to that 4-0 lead. Though the Peruvian challenged the Serbian's serve with some bold backhand strikes down the line, Djokovic lifted his level when necessary.

After the grounds crew watered the court, Djokovic reigned some ruthless forehands, including a finishing forehand, breaking to start the second set.

Credit the scrappy Varillas for extending rallies for a set.

Once Djokovic dialed in his drives, he began persistently punishing the Peruvian forcing him into side-to-side sprints.

Varying the heights of his shots, Djokovic sometimes played higher, heavier topspin to displace the world No. 94 behind the baseline setting up mid-court balls he could drive. The Varillas backhand down the line, a crisp weapon in set one, started to stray in set two. Varillas missed a backhand beyond the baseline and Djokovic converted his fourth break for a 4-1 lead.

Knowing his opponent, playing just his third career major, was depleted from winning three straight five-set marathons, Djokovic drained Varillas' legs with ruthless precision. Watching from the support box, coach Goran Ivanisevic had to be pleased with Djokovic's movement, given the third seed had taken treatment for a left leg injury in his third-round win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Djokovic barely made a mis-step as this match progressed.

Mixing in some high loopy topspin with flatter shots, Djokovic charged through 12 of 14 points stretching his lead to 5-1.  Varillas fought off two set points standing firm to hold in the seventh game.

Converting his third set point, Djokovic snatched a two-set lead after just 79 minutes of play.

Seeing the finish line in sight, Djokovic streaked through it improving to 89-16 lifetime at Roland Garros.


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