PARIS (Reuters) -Twice champion Novak Djokovic huffed and puffed his way into the French Open fourth round with a 7-6(4) 7-6(5) 6-2 win over Spanish 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Friday.
Djokovic, who is aiming to leapfrog injured champion Rafa Nadal and win a record 23rd Grand Slam title, came into the match on Court Philippe Chatrier having lost to Davidovich Fokina the last time they met in Monte Carlo.
"I knew it was going to be a very difficult match, a very physical match," Djokovic said. "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."
The 36-year-old Serbian was given an early reminder of his struggles in that 2022 match by the man-bun sporting Davidovich Fokina, who had the world number three tied up in knots with some heavy hitting and breathtaking drop shots.
Djokovic creaked on serve but hit back when it mattered to level at 3-3 and edged the 83-minute first set with a blistering crosscourt winner that drew huge roars.
A charged-up Djokovic responded to an early break with two of his own but dropped serve again in the wildly swinging second set, before shrugging off three double faults at 5-5 and a time violation to double his advantage in another tiebreak.
He called the trainer onto court for an apparent left leg issue, sparking fears the injury that accompanied his run to the Australian Open title in January had returned, but pulled away in the third set and crossed the finish line in style.
"A win is a win. The first two sets, three hours, I thought if I lose the second set, I will probably be playing five hours today," said Djokovic, who will play 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz or Juan Pablo Varillas in the next round.
"You have to be ready. That is what Grand Slams are all about, playing best of five. You have to believe in yourself and make the most out of it. I am proud of the performance today."
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in ParisEditing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris)