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Novak Djokovic was pushed to his limit in a physically punishing French Open encounter by Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Friday, June 2, and the 36-year-old twice champion said he had accepted the fact that his body behaved differently now.
The Serbian, who is seeking a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam title to overtake the injured Rafa Nadal, spent more than three hours on court – much of it battling away in two exhausting opening sets – before prevailing 7-6(4), 7-6(5), 6-2.
Djokovic’s run to the Australian Open title in January came despite a problematic left thigh injury and he also missed the Madrid Open in the buildup to Roland Garros with a niggling elbow issue.
“We don’t have much time to start to name the many injuries I have, and the list is quite long,” Djokovic told reporters. “I don’t want to sit here and talk about these things that are not preventing me from playing. I still kept on playing.”
Djokovic called the trainer onto the court after the second set to have his left leg looked at again, sparking fears about how durable his body will be for a Paris title charge.
“These are the circumstances that you, as a professional athlete, have to deal with. Accept it. Sometimes you need help from the physio during the match. Sometimes you need pills,” Djokovic said.
“Sometimes you need help from God or angels. Sometimes you just have to deal with the reality. Reality for me nowadays is that my body is responding differently than it did a few years ago. I have to adjust to this new reality.
“But, at the end of the day, I managed to finish the match. And on the court you try to do your best, everything possible, so you can finish the match and win.”
Djokovic, who will play Juan Pablo Varillas in the fourth round, said he was happy with his overall game despite four tiebreaks in three matches.
“Can it be better? Certainly,” Djokovic said.
“I still didn’t drop a set… Look, it’s important to keep going. I’ve been in this situation a lot of times in my career, so entering the second week you have to expect that the matches are only going to get tougher.
“But if they don’t get tougher, then it’s great, but I have to be ready for it.”
Djokovic came into the match on Court Philippe Chatrier having lost to Davidovich Fokina the last time they met in Monte Carlo.
“I knew it was going to be a very difficult match, a very physical match,” Djokovic said. “We played three hours for only two sets. He contested very well.
“He is an amazing fighter and an amazing player. He has very few weaknesses in his game. Congratulations to him for fighting. Bad luck, but he played a great match.”
The 36-year-old Serbian was given an early reminder of his struggles in that 2022 match by the man-bun sporting Davidovich Fokina, who had the world No. 3 tied up in knots with some heavy hitting and breathtaking drop shots.
Djokovic creaked on serve but hit back when it mattered to level at 3-3 and edged the 83-minute first set with a blistering crosscourt winner that drew huge roars.
A charged-up Djokovic responded to an early break with two of his own but dropped serve again in the wildly swinging second set, before shrugging off three double faults at 5-5 and a time violation to double his advantage in another tiebreak.
He called the trainer onto court for an apparent left leg issue, sparking fears the injury that accompanied his run to the Australian Open title in January had returned, but pulled away in the third set and crossed the finish line in style.
“A win is a win. The first two sets, three hours, I thought if I lose the second set, I will probably be playing five hours today,” said Djokovic.
“You have to be ready,” he added as he gears up for Varillas, who defeated 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz. “That is what Grand Slams are all about, playing best of five. You have to believe in yourself and make the most out of it. I am proud of the performance today.” – Rappler.com