In his third-round match against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Novak Djokovic served six double faults–one to gift a break and two to hand break opportunities, won a meagre 16 out of 40 points on second serve and delivered 27 winners, seven fewer than his opponent.
Not Novak-like numbers in the third round of a Grand Slam, even though the world No. 3 defeated the Spaniard 7-6(4), 7-6(5), 6-2 to advance to the fourth round of this French Open.
For the 22-time Major champion who is often workmanlike in his performances in the first week of a Slam, the first three rounds in Paris this year haven’t quite been a breeze. It’s a sign of his current form and physical shape—Djokovic took a medical timeout after the second set on Friday—as also of the stiff challenge that awaits the Serb ahead in a tough draw.
Against the world No. 34 Fokina who had made the 2021 French Open quarter-finals upsetting Casper Ruud, Djokovic struggled for rhythm in his serves and consistency in his game for much of the first two sets that went on for more than two hours.
Fokina earned the first break in the fifth game with a forehand winner after a lengthy rally with the moonballing Djokovic. The Spaniard pulled off freak exchanges at the net, and had Djokovic run around the court with his combination of drops and lobs that also saved him one of the break points the next game. But Djokovic kept asking, and Fokina gave in with a backhand error into the net.
The Serb though lost his serve again in a game where he double-faulted at 30-30 and was handed a time violation before the next point. Fokina failed to cash in as a couple of errors in the next game forced a tiebreaker. Djokovic, taking some pace off the ball to disrupt Fokina’s solid groundstrokes, went from 1-3 down to 5-3 in it and sealed it with an incredible forehand return winner.
Two nights ago in the second round against Marton Fucsovics, an animated Djokovic had to dig deep to eke out the first set tiebreaker before he bounced back to not drop a game in the second set. On Friday, Djokovic’s patchy play carried on.
Fokina got the early edge again courtesy of another double fault from the Serb, after which he stretched his legs and body. His game tightening a bit more, Djokovic picked up two breaks to move ahead as Fokina appeared increasingly sluggish. Djokovic still couldn’t stamp his authority on the contest, double-faulting, losing points going for balls well wide and missing a simple putaway at the net to an open court. Serving for the set, therefore, Djokovic was broken to love. Needing another tiebreaker to keep the spirited Fokina at bay, Djokovic vented out an elaborate celebration to the crowd after winning it.
After treating his left thigh during a medical timeout, Djokovic played a more Djokovic-like third set, breaking Fokina to love early and not letting him back in again.
Rublev, Pegula stunned
Among the more surprising results from Friday’s play, Lorenzo Sonego, the 28-year-old Italian, mounted a spectacular comeback from two sets down and a bagelled second set to defeat seventh seed Andrey Rublev 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3. Rublev, the in-form Russian, had won the Monte Carlo Masters on clay this season and eyed a deep run in Paris. The 48th-ranked Sonego labelled the rescue act a “miracle”, reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros for just the second time.
Another top seed to crash out was Jessica Pegula, the American ranked and seeded third. The 2022 French Open quarter-finalist was blown away by No. 28 seed Belgian Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-3 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
No such troubles for world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who took a little over an hour to breeze past Kamilla Rakhimova 6-2, 6-2 to book her fourth-round spot for the first time ever in the clay-court Slam.
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