Novak Djokovic earns his record 370th Grand Slam match win with another French Open 5-setter


PARIS — PARIS (AP) — Novak Djokovic was bothered by his right knee, then found himself down a set and a break, before doing what he does so well, coming back to beat No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the French Open’s fourth round on Monday for his record 370th win in a Grand Slam match.

Djokovic, the defending champion at Roland Garros, broke a tie with Roger Federer for the most match wins at major tournaments — and also for the most Slam quarterfinals for a man by reaching the 59th of his career.

And the No. 1-ranked Djokovic did it in ways he has so often over his years of dominance and 24 major trophies, both turning around a contest after trailing — go ahead and ask Federer about holding match points against the guy — and emerging when the tension is greatest. This victory across more than 4 1/2 hours means that Djokovic is now 40-11 in fifth sets over his career; compare that with Cerundolo’s 1-3 mark, and the outcome should surprise no one.

“I was,” Djokovic said, “maybe three or four points away from losing this match.”

For Djokovic, this was the second consecutive outing that lasted more than 4 hours, that he he fell behind 2-1 in sets and that he won in five. In the third round, he made his way past No. 30 Lorenzo Musetti, a 22-year-old from Italy, finishing Sunday after 3 a.m., the latest finish in French Open history.

“How did I find the way to win again? I don’t know. The only explanation I have is you,” Djokovic told the crowd. “Thank you.”

Against Cerundolo, a 25-year-old from Argentina who was trying to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, the 37-year-old Djokovic used all of his skills, experience and ability to adjust on the fly. He came through, in part, by playing more aggressively and putting extra speed on his groundstrokes, while dealing with whatever was going on with his knee.

Djokovic trailed 4-2 in the fourth set but surged from there.

At 2-1 in the crucible of the fifth set, Djokovic’s feet gave way as he chased a ball to his right, and he rolled on the ground, caking his white shorts, his red shirt and parts of his arms and legs with the rust-colored clay. As he walked to the sideline to grab a bottle of water to help clean off, he gave a piece of his mind to anyone who would listen, renewing an earlier complaint about wanting the court to be swept to improve traction.

“Well done, supervisor and everybody,” Djokovic said, his voice drenched in sarcasm. “Not slippery at all.”

Yet he was just fine at 3-all in that set, when he stretched and slid, doing the splits, while somehow getting his racket on the ball for a drop volley to win a point. His chest on the ground, Djokovic stuck out both arms, mimicking an airplane, and smiled.

The first signs of trouble came much earlier, in the second set, when Djokovic began flexing his right leg. He took a medical timeout and laid down on a towel placed on the sideline, where a trainer massaged that knee, then had Djokovic flip onto his belly to work on his hamstring.

Djokovic winced as his right leg was manipulated, a scene repeated at subsequent changeovers.

During play, Djokovic stumbled occasionally. Or limped a bit. After some lengthier points, he leaned on his racket or bent at the waist and rested with his hands on his knees or crouched.

When he missed a backhand that allowed Cerundolo to convert a break point for the first time in 13 tries, Djokovic handed over the second set. Soon, he was staring at a two-sets-to-one hole. And not long after that, he was down 4-2 in the fourth.

Another athlete might cower. Not Djokovic.

His quarterfinal opponent Wednesday will be two-time French Open runner-up Casper Ruud or No. 12 Taylor Fritz. The other men’s matchup that day will be No. 11 Alex de Minaur against No. 4 Alexander Zverev or No. 13 Holger Rune.

On Monday, de Minaur defeated No. 5 Daniil Medvedev 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 to become the first Australian man in the French Open quarterfinals since Lleyton Hewitt in 2004.

The women’s quarterfinal matchups established Monday are No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. unseeded Mirra Andreeva, a 17-year-old Russian, and No. 4 Elena Rybakina vs. No. 12 Jamine Paolini. Sabalenka won the past two Australian Opens, while Rybakina was the Wimbledon champion in 2022.

Sabalenka beat Emma Navarro 6-2, 6-3, Andreeva defeated Varvara Gracheva 7-5, 6-2, Rybakina was a 6-4, 6-3 winner against Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-3, and Paolini came back to eliminate Elina Avanesyan 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.

With temperatures in Paris topping 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius) after a tournament filled with chillier temperatures and plenty of rain, Djokovic vs. Cerundolo was played with the retractable roof at Court Philippe Chatrier open. The azure sky was visible, finally.

Djokovic’s comeback truly began at 4-3 in the fourth, when he smacked a winner to earn a break point — not to mention roars from the stands— and converted when Cerundolo netted a shot. Djokovic shook his racket overhead, and a chant of his two-syllable nickname rang out, “No-le! No-le!”

Now it was a match.

They traded early breaks in the fifth, but from 3-all, Djokovic asserted himself, and he broke to lead 5-3 with a forehand winner that landed right on the baseline — so close to being out that chair umpire Aurélie Tourte climbed out of her perch to check.

Djokovic arrived in Paris with just a 14-6 record in 2024 and not even a single appearance in a tournament final, let alone a title. He said he felt this way: “Low expectations and high hopes.”

He’s been living on the edge through the first half of the French Open — his past two matches required 9 hours, 8 minutes spread over 10 sets — but no one ever has been as good as Djokovic when it is Grand Slam time.

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AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire and Associated Press Writer Tom Nouvian contributed to this report.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis



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