Novak Djokovic is still at the French Open – but only after a long four-set fight Wednesday night against Pablo Carreño Busta, the Spaniard who conceded at the US Open when the world No.1 was disqualified for hitting a line official with a spare ball. It was not a happy reunion.
A month after their shared drama in New York, Carreño Busta had the idea of winning on her own merits after winning the first set of the second quarterfinal on Day 11, but Djokovic ignored the lingering pain in his left arm and neck as he tinkered. together a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory in 3h 10min under the spotlight of the Philippe Chatrier court. He has two days to recover before playing Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday, and he will need it every waking hour.
Djokovic was shy about his injuries later and only said, “I had problems with my neck and shoulders. I’m still in the tournament so I don’t want to reveal too much. I feel good. As the match progressed I warmed up and the pain subsided. It made me play better and feel better.
Carreño Busta questioned the severity of Djokovic’s injuries. “It’s normal, isn’t it? He always [such gestures], ” he said. “In recent years he always does that when he has problems on the court. I don’t know, maybe it’s the pressure or something he needs to do it. But he continues to play normally, right? I don’t know if he’s really in pain, or if he’s having problems [issues]. »
If the 2016 champion wants to win the title again, he has to beat through injury, a fit Tsitsipas and, possibly, 12-time champion Rafael Nadal, who plays Diego Schwartzman in the other semi-final. It’s the kind of mountain Djokovic loves to climb, but the question remains: is he fit enough and strong enough to reach the top?
Djokovic was allowed to play in Rome, where he beat Schwartzman in the final, and in Paris after testing positive for coronavirus on his exposure tour of the Balkans earlier this summer – but he looked messy physical in the first set. Sweating and anxious, he winced, pulled on his bandaged arm and neck, and tried to hit the top of his legs with his racket as his opponent waited for his chances.
The tournament physio massaged Djokovic’s arm during the break and the player told him: “It’s better now. Still, he didn’t look comfortable from a distance, even when he ran his serve and leveled at a set apiece. The coach returned between games three and four, and it seemed to cheer Djokovic up. Just when he looked like he was sliding into a confused state again, he bounced back to the same level at a set level each.
He broke early in the third, overcame a blip when Carreño Busta took a 2-3 break, then struck again to make a set. But he seemed far from commanding. Carreño Busta sank his heels into the clay courts of Roland Garros in the fourth, and Djokovic had to fight for every point. Carreño Busta chose an unfortunate option to give him the break for 3-4, Djokovic saved the break point to hold two points for 5-3 and served to survive, his last cross forehand.
While Djokovic remains unbeaten in 36 games completed this year, he isn’t as happy as he was when he went through the first four games of the tournament for the loss of just 25 games. It was a patchy and edgy performance, saved by the courage and class of a player many observers considered a slight favorite ahead of the tournament. On the eve of the semi-finals, it’s everyone’s French Open.