Novak Djokovic in thrilling French Open comeback win, two days after tournament’s latest finish

Novak Djokovic once again came back from the precipice of defeat at the French Open after beating Argentine Francisco Cerundolo in Paris.

Cerundolo, the 23rd seed, had led 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 4-2, but Djokovic raised his level when it mattered once again, eventually triumphing 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Djokovic, who is the world No 1 and was chasing his 25th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, swept his opponent aside in the first set, continuing his remarkable apparent return to form in the previous round.

He then began to struggle midway through the second after appearing to damage the inside of his right knee. He complained to the umpire about there being too much clay on the court, suggesting that it had contributed to the injury. He made a similar complaint during his win over Italian 30th seed Lorenzo Musetti in the early hours of Sunday morning, which finished at 3.06am in the latest finish in tournament history.

From then on, the match entered a kind of stasis. Djokovic was visibly afflicted by the knee problem, and, most likely, that incredibly late finish, struggling to move properly and unable to do little more than extend rallies from the middle of the court. But whether through nerves or disbelief at facing such an enfeebled version of who many consider to be the best men’s player in history, Cerundolo was an obliging opponent, failing to capitalise on 10 break points largely through errors on routine balls. He finally got it together in the 12th game, breaking at the second attempt in two points to take the set 7-5.


Novak Djokovic wins at 3:06 a.m. in latest finish in French Open history

Cerundolo then settled, and Djokovic, unlike against Musetti when he was down and looked out, failed to rouse himself. The Argentine took the next set 6-3, and broke Djokovic in the sixth game of the fourth set.

That looked like it was it — to anyone who hasn’t watched Djokovic in the last 15 or so years. After breaking back to 4-4, and saving a break point at 5-5, he turned Cerundolo’s trick onto him and broke again in the 12th game to level the match.
Cerundolo did not wilt, as Musetti did in the small hours on Sunday. After going 2-0 down in the final set, he broke straight back, drawing level at 2-2.

The Argentine continued to make a fist of it, but Djokovic made his experience tell at 3-4, assuming a 5-3 lead and serving out to progress.

Djokovic would have remained without a title in 2024 had he lost; he would also have relinquished the world No 1 ranking to Italy’s Jannik Sinner when they are updated next Monday, June 10. Sinner can still overtake him if the world No 2 reaches the final in Paris, regardless of how far Djokovic gets.

He will play either Taylor Fritz or Casper Ruud, the 12th and 7th seeds respectively, in the quarter-finals.

‘Who would bet against Djokovic?’

Analysis by Charlie Eccleshare

Even by Djokovic’s standards, this was a truly remarkable comeback. Sunday morning’s win from two sets to one down against Musetti was more dramatic because of the early-morning finish, but this one from the same deficit felt even more improbable.

When Djokovic lost that third set and then went a break down in the fourth against Cerundulo on Monday, it really did feel like curtains — even for the many of us who have spent close to 20 years watching Djokovic pull off these kinds of acts of escapology.

A big reason why many of us ignored our better judgement and thought that for once this might be too much for Djokovic was how compromised the world No 1 appeared by a knee injury he picked up early in the second set. Djokovic just wasn’t moving well enough to win the match, it appeared, and Cerundolo was repeatedly exploiting this with well-placed drop shots.

That Djokovic was able to overcome this physical impediment, aged 37 and barely 36 hours after that mind-bending 3am win over Musetti makes this one of his biggest-ever mind-over-matter comeback wins. A dive volley at full stretch in the seventh game of the final set was Djokovic at his very best. Likewise, the lung-busting defence that saw him somehow pinch a point that he looked out of on several occasions and stay in the next game where he eventually secured the crucial break.

The players had been going for more than four and a half hours at this point, and the final match time of 4hr 39mins means that Djokovic has played more than nine hours in his last two matches.

Where it leaves him for a quarter-final against Ruud or Fritz on Wednesday is anyone’s guess, but having defied the doubters yet again on Monday, who would bet against him doing it again in two days’ time?

(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

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