Djokovic celebrates umpteenth resurrection and advances at Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic gets up after a spectacular point he won from the floor / SEBASTIÁN FEST
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PARIS – A placid sunny Monday in Paris was the setting for a near-earthquake in men’s tennis: Argentina’s Francisco Cerúndolo  came close to beating Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and thus confirming Italy’s Jannik Sinner as the new world number one. But in the end, as so often in Djokovic’s career when he looked finished, he was the winner. One more time, Djokovic revived.

“The victory is yours, it’s yours,” said an emotional Djokovic after four hours and 39 minutes of play that brought the centre court to boiling point. It was 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 63 for the Serbian.

Djokovic, the most successful tennis player in history with 24 Grand Slam titles, showed physical problems 52 minutes into the match. He was leading 6-1, 1-1 and 40-0 on his opponent’s serve when he tweaked his right knee. The Serb’s next point was a rude unforced error to surrender the game.

The three-time Roland Garros champion asked to be attended to by doctors, who worked on the back of his right knee. The Serb was heard berating the ATP supervisor about the state of the clay at the Central Stadium: ‘You are the supervisor and you are representing the players. I’m telling you that the clay is not good’.

Djokovic was again treated by the doctor in the seventh game of the second set, and would continue to complain repeatedly throughout the match. ‘I slip all the time,’ said the 37-year-old Serb, who has yet to lift a trophy or even play in a final so far this season.

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Novak Djokovic complains during his defeat against Francisco Cerúndolo at Roland Garros 2024. In the fourth set, Djokovic revived/ SEBASTIÁN FEST

The defeat would have guaranteed Australian Open champion Sinner’s accession to the top of the ATP rankings in an acceleration of the changing of the guard in tennis after long years of dominance by the trio of Djokovic, Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

Sinner is trying to be the 29th player to reach number one since the ATP created the world rankings in 1973.

Cerúndolo, a player in progressive ascent who in 2023 reached the 19th of the world ranking, had it in his power to achieve his best result in a Grand Slam tournament, as he had never reached the round of the last eight.

Francisco Cerúndolo celebrates a point during his match with Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros 2024 / SEBASTIÁN FEST

Djokovic, supported by the crowd, managed to put the Argentine on the ropes by recovering from a 4-2 deficit in the fourth set, where he also served 5-5 and with break point, but finally managed to dominate the set against a Cerúndolo, who failed at key moments.

In the fifth set, Djokovic took a 2-0 lead, but Cerúndolo managed to recover the deficit amid a strange atmosphere: the Serb was the Serb was slipping at the back of the court and falling down. The Argentinian, this time, chose not to get involved and keep his concentration: there is nothing more disturbing in tennis than facing a player who you don’t know to what extent he is physically diminished.

In the final stretch of the match there was no longer a trace of the Serb’s physical problems, who was emboldened and won the psychological game against the Argentinian while haranguing the public again and again.

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The final set was spectacular: Djokovic stopped the point by marking Cerúndolo’s shot as out, and the chair umpire confirmed it.

Djokovic’s opponent for a place in the semi-finals will come from the clash between the American Taylor Fritz and the Norwegian Casper Ruud.

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