PARIS: Novak Djokovic battled into the French Open fourth round for a 14th consecutive year on Friday as Carlos Alcaraz also progressed, after women's third seed Jessica Pegula and men's seventh-ranked Andrey Rublev were dumped out of the tournament.
Djokovic has made headlines for his comments about Kosovo this week but his on-court progress has been relatively serene, reaching the second week without dropping a set.
The Serb star was made to work hard by Spanish 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who served for the first set and missed a set point in the second, but won 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“I thought if I lost the second set we would play five hours today, but I’m proud of the performance,“ said Djokovic.
Two-time champion Djokovic, who has also made the French Open quarter-finals in each of the past 13 years, will take on Peru's Juan Pablo Varillas in the last 16.
The 36-year-old is hoping to break out of his tie with injured rival Rafael Nadal at the top of the men's all-time list of major winners at Roland Garros.
He is just one title behind Serena Williams' mark of 23 Slams and two adrift of Margaret Court's overall record.
Djokovic, slated to meet world number one Alcaraz in the semi-finals, has now won three of his four matches with Davidovich Fokina.
The first two sets lasted two hours and 47 minutes, as Davidovich Fokina provided a stern test of Djokovic's form.
But the world number three broke when he trailed 6-5 in the opening set before overturning a 3-1 deficit to win a tie-break.
Davidovich Fokina missed one set point to level the match before Djokovic won another breaker before being booed by the crowd for taking a medical time-out.
“That’s something that I find disrespectful and I frankly don’t understand that,“ said Djokovic, who made short work of the third set.
Alcaraz thrashed Canadian 26th seed Denis Shapovalov for the loss of just seven games in the night-session match.
The Spaniard powered to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory, with the only slight blip when he trailed 4-1 in the second set.
He reeled off seven straight games after that wake-up call, though, to set up a fourth-round meeting with Italian 17th seed Lorenzo Musetti who dismantled British number one Cameron Norrie 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“I knew I’d have my chances in the second set to come back a bit and that’s what I did,“ Alcaraz said.
The 20-year-old is bidding for a second straight Grand Slam title after winning the 2022 US Open and then missing this year's Australian Open through injury.
Italian Lorenzo Sonego battled back from two sets down to knock out Rublev and reach the last 16 for the second time.
The world number 48 was two points from defeat during a fourth-set tie-break but prevailed 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 after three hours and 42 minutes.
Sonego will face Russian 11th seed Karen Khachanov for a possible quarter-final meeting with Djokovic.
“I played more aggressive than in the first and second sets because when he’s aggressive it’s tough to compete against him,“ he said.
Eleventh seed Khachanov ended Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis' run with an entertaining 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7/5) win.
Stefanos Tsitsipas continued his bid for a maiden Grand Slam title with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over former semi-finalist Diego Schwartzman.
The Greek fifth seed, who a blew a two-set lead to Djokovic in the 2021 final, will next play Austrian qualifier Sebastian Ofner after making the second week for a fifth straight year.
American Pegula's hopes were ended in comprehensive fashion by a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Belgian Elise Mertens.
World number three Pegula has still never passed the quarter-final stage of a Grand Slam tournament.
The former Australian Open semi-finalist will next face 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Sabalenka 'not safe'
Aryna Sabalenka refused to do an official post-match press conference after powering into the last 16 for the first time with a straight-sets win over Kamilla Rakhimova.
The Belarusian claimed she “did not feel safe” when asked to condemn her country’s support of Russia’s war in Ukraine during a press conference earlier this week.
The second seed is yet to drop a set in the tournament after a comfortable 6-2, 6-2 win against world number 82 Rakhimova.
Sabalenka will face former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the fourth round.
Russian Daria Kasatkina, a semi-finalist last year, raced past American Peyton Stearns 6-0, 6-1 in under an hour.
The ninth seed will next face Elina Svitolina on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals.
Ukrainian Svitolina reached the fourth round on her first Grand Slam appearance since the 2022 Australian Open with a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Anna Blinkova. - AFP