Defending champion Novak Djokovic struggled into the French Open last 16 on Friday, downing battling Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.
The Serbian led 4-1 in the first set before Schwartzman broke back to level the set at 4-4. A second break of serve on Djokovic’s serve, in the 11th game, saw Schwartzman take the lead in the match. Djokovic found his rhythm in the second set as he convincingly broke the Argentine in the eighth game of the set to win it 6-3 on his serve and bring the match on an equal footing.
While it would have been expected that the world No 2 would build upon his second set’s success, Schwartzman had other ideas. The 24-year-old broke Djokovic in the eighth game, to serve out the set. It was, however, with his back to the ball that Djokovic pulled off a brilliant comeback into the match in the final two sets.
A double break on Schwartzman’s serve in the fourth set saw Djokovic quickly build a 4-0 lead. Trying to serve for a 5-0 lead, the 30-year-old was embroiled in an argument with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos, who gave him a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct. Djokovic’s brief fracas cost him the game, but he went on to regroup himself immediately, breaking Schwartzman for the third time in the set, before serving it out in the seventh game.
Djokovic’s strategy to make Schwartzman repeatedly move around the court side-to-side took a toll on the latter’s body. Two breaks on Schwartzman’s serve ensured Djokovic had a healthy cushion to see him through the match. But a third break in the seventh game, while Schwartzman was serving to stay in the match, helped Djokovic through into his eighth consecutive pre-quarter-finals at Roland Garros after a match that lasted three hours and 18 minutes.
The second seed will face either France’s Lucas Pouille, the 16th seed, or 19th-seeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain for a place in the last eight.