PARIS: Novak Djokovic held his nerve in two tiebreaks on Friday as the 22-time Grand Slam winner dispatched a tough Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6- 2 to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros for 14 consecutive years.
The third seed twice fell a break of serve behind in an entertaining first set as Davidovich Fokina's clean hitting pulled the Serbian all around Court Philippe-Chatrier. Djokovic reclaimed the break in the next game on both occasions though, before raising his level in the tie-break to clinch the set with a stunning forehand return winner.
"I knew it was going to be a very difficult match, a very physical match," Djokovic said.
The two-time champion in Paris had the chance to serve for the second set at 5-4, only to face a strong fight-back from the 29th seed, who leveled the score with a break and held his serve to lead by 6- 5. The 36-year-old even had to save a set point at 40-30 behind in the 12th game, before finding another gear in the tie-break, winning a series of breathtaking rallies to move further clear.
"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, Added Djokovic, who let out a roar after winning the second set and raised his fist to the crowd in celebration.
The Serbian was more commanding in the third set, racing to victory after clinching the set 6-2.
Next for Djokovic in the round of 16 is Peru's Juan Pablo Varillas.
Spanish top seed Carlos Alcaraz, who was drawn into the same half with Djokovic, also moved one step closer to his second Grand Slam title after beating Canadian 26th seed Denis Shapovalov 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.
The reigning US Open winner will play Lorenzo Musetti of Italy for a place in the quarterfinals.
"My dream right now is to win every tournament I play in, fight for Grand Slams, to compete with the guys like Djokovic," the 20-year-old world No.1 said after the straight-set victory.
Russia's seventh seed Andrey Rublev, who has reached the quarterfinals in his previous three Grand Slam appearances, suffered a shock defeat as he relinquished a two-set lead in a five-set thriller against Lorenzo Sonego which ended 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3.
Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the runner-up in 2021, breezed past Argentina's Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
PEGULA WAS DUMPED OUT BY MERTENS, SABALENKA MOVES ON
World No. 3 Jessica Pegula became the highest-ranked women's player to date to fall at the French Open after suffering a third-round defeat to Belgium's Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-3.
The 28th seed went into the match with two victories in as many clashes against Pegula, who has yet to go further than the quarterfinal stage at any Grand Slam tournament.
"I was very happy to win in two sets, I think I played well. I was delighted to play on this amazing court," said Mertens, who played the first match of the day on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Pegula's 28 unforced errors during an hour and 22 minutes fight were one of the reasons that crashed her play, compared with only 13 from her opponent.
Mertens held easily to take the opening set after just 26 minutes and when she broke Pegula in the first game in the second, it looked like she would cruise to the victory.
The 27-year-old seized all breakpoints, converting all five chances to secure a spot in the round of 16 at Roland Garros for a second consecutive year.
Next for Mertens will be 24th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who overcame Russian compatriot Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.
Second seed Ayrna Sabalenka of Belarus, eyeing her second Grand Slam title after winning the Australian Open earlier this year, soared into the fourth round with a comfortable 6-2, 6-2 victory over Russia's Kamilla Rakhimova in only one hour and seven minutes.