French Open 2021

Close shave for Novak

Musetti nearly stuns Djokovic after going two sets up, Kenin out as more women stars fall

Novak Djokovic endured a tough time in the first two sets against Lorenzo Musetti before recovering to lead in the decider when the teenager retired.
Novak Djokovic endured a tough time in the first two sets against Lorenzo Musetti before recovering to lead in the decider when the teenager retired.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS • As teenager Lorenzo Musetti made his way off the court following his retirement in the fifth set of his last-16 French Open clash with Novak Djokovic, the pandemic-restricted crowd at Court Philippe-Chatrier rose to give him a standing ovation.

So did his top-ranked opponent, applauding him off after the Italian came so close to causing one of the biggest Grand Slam shocks.

Djokovic survived a huge scare, dropping the first two sets before fighting back to win 6-7 (7-9), 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0, with Musetti unable to shake off a stomach issue.

The Serb, 2016 champion here and chasing a 19th Major, was facing his earliest exit in Paris since 2009 and looked to be toiling after the first two sets had taken a total of 141 minutes.

However, Musetti, 19, could not maintain his momentum, winning only 14 points in the third and fourth sets before leaving the court for a medical timeout.

While he gamely fought on after returning, he called it a day after being broken twice, enabling Australian Open champion Djokovic to go top of the list for the most five-set matches won at Slams (31).

This was also the 34-year-old's fifth time coming back from two sets down at a Slam, keeping him on course to be the first man in over 50 years to do the career Slam twice. He will next face another Italian in Matteo Berrettini for a place in the last four.

In the women's draw, more big names tumbled out of the French Open with last year's Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens the latest to exit, this time in the fourth round.

Fourth seed Kenin was the highest-ranked player left but departed after a 6-1, 6-3 rout by Greek Maria Sakkari, while fellow American Stephens lost 6-2, 6-0 to unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova.

However, Coco Gauff bucked the trend as the last American still in contention, beating Tunisian Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-1. At just 17, she is the youngest woman to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam event since Czech Nicole Vaidisova, who made the quarter-finals here in 2006.

"I am super happy to reach my first Grand Slam quarter-final. I played really well today," said the teenager, who has yet to drop a set here and learnt afterwards she had claimed a place on the US team for the Tokyo Olympics.



    Diego Schwartzman (Arg) bt Jan-Lennard Struff (Ger) 7-6 (11-9) 6-4 7-5, Novak Djokovic (Srb) bt Lorenzo Musetti (Ita) 6-7 (7-9) 6-7 (2-7) 6-1 6-0 4-0 (ret).


    Barbora Krejcikova (Cze) bt Sloane Stephens (USA) 6-2 6-0, Coco Gauff (USA) bt Ons Jabeur (Tun) 6-3 6-1, Maria Sakkari (Gre) bt Sofia Kenin (USA) 6-1 6-3.

Meanwhile, world No. 2 Naomi Osaka yesterday pulled out of next week's Berlin WTA 500 grass-court event, raising doubts about the four-time Slam champion's participation at Wimbledon later this month. The Japanese withdrew following her first-round win at Roland Garros last Monday, citing mental health issues.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2021, with the headline 'Close shave for Novak'. Subscribe