Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Djokovic keeps his title defence going


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PARIS, June 2: Novak Djokovic’s French Open title defence — and his hold on the No. 1 ranking — are still alive thanks to a 7-5, 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 comeback victory over 22-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti in a third-round match that lasted 4 1/2 hours and did not conclude until Sunday after 3 am, the latest finish in tournament history.
It is Djokovic’s 369th win at a Grand Slam tournament, tying Roger Federer for the most in tennis history. Djokovic can break the mark on Monday, when he’ll face No. 23 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.
Djokovic briefly looked as if he might be unable to recover against Musetti but instead ran away with the final two sets and now will continue his bid for a record 25th Grand Slam title and fourth at Roland Garros.
“I was in real trouble and credit to Lorenzo for making me uncomfortable on the court and playing some really amazing tennis. Very high level. At one point, I didn’t know, really, what to do,” the 37-year-old Djokovic said. “It didn’t feel great playing him that third set and the beginning of the fourth.”
Gasping for breath while leaning over with hands on knees, or taking so much time between points that he earned a warning, Djokovic appeared to be exhausted at times against his much younger, backward-hat-wearing opponent. Musetti was propelled to the lead by a one-handed backhand, a deft touch at the net and a 5-for-5 success rate on break chances — playing, in sum, “the tennis of his life,” as Djokovic put it.
Djokovic said he found the damp and cold conditions, and heavy clay, hard to deal with, especially “when you’re playing 20-plus-shot rallies at 2 am; who plays at 2 am, you know?”
But Djokovic is nothing if not a determined problem-solver. And once Djokovic got headed in the right direction in the fourth set, thanks to playing more aggressively on service returns and closer to the baseline during groundstrokes exchanges, the 30th-ranked Musetti could not withstand the charge.
One telling stat: Djokovic improved to 39-11 in fifth sets over his career; Musetti fell to 2-6.
Djokovic has spent more weeks atop the ATP rankings than anyone, but if he fails to return to the final at the French Open, he will cede that spot to Musetti’s countryman, current No. 2 Jannik Sinner. (AP)


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