Defending champion Novak Djokovic survived his first stern test at the French Open on Friday, as he came from two sets to one down to overcome world number 41 Diego Schwartzman 5-7 6-3 3-6 6-1 6-1 and move into the last 16.
The second seed, now joint third on the all-time list for most wins at Roland Garros with 58, was on the backfoot for much of the match, allowing the Argentine to dictate the pace from the baseline.
He broke early to go 3-1 up in the first set but instead of cruising through he was broken twice with Schwartzman, in top form on clay this season, snatching the set as dark clouds gathered above Court Philippe Chatrier.
“Before the match I felt well, I was optimistic and I had played two good matches (in the tournament),” Djokovic said.
“I expected a difficult game with a lot of baseline exchanges, so congratulations for a big battle to Diego because he played really well.”
The Serb recovered to secure the second set but with 42 unforced errors in the first three sets alone, including a backhand that flew long to hand Schwartzman the third, he struggled for consistency.
With new coach Andre Agassi watching from the stands and under threat of becoming the first defending champion to lose before the round of 16 since Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2004, Djokovic took the initiative.
He chased Schwartzman along the baseline with punishing groundstrokes and kept his cool, despite a time violation and a warning, to take the match to a decider.
Two more breaks put him in control and a third gave him a spot in the last 16, where he will face either France’s Lucas Pouille or Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain.
Meanwhile, fourth seed Rafael Nadal literally demolished Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-0 6-1 6-0.
The brutality of Nadal’s destruction of the world number 63 on the Roland Garros main showcourt was withering.
A scan of the statistics makes for grisly reading. Grisly for Basilashvili, grisly for Nadal’s next opponent, fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, grisly for everyone in the draw.
Grisly for everyone in the way of the fourth seed.
For example, it took Basilashvili until the 12th game of the match to register on the scoreboard.
He won one in four of his first serve points in the opening set.
The number of winners he struck in the match could be counted on one hand, and his 34 unforced errors almost matched the entire number of points he won all match — 36.
Yet Basilashvili is no rookie: Nadal did this to him. Consider that the 25-year-old Georgian had already this year beaten then-world number eight Dominic Thiem.
Nadal is a unique creature on clay, though. His statistics are mind-boggling.
Friday’s victory was his 100th best-of-five-set match on the slow surface, and he now has a staggering win-loss ratio of 98-2.
Friday’s victory was his most one-sided at Roland Garros, where he is speeding toward a 10th title. His previous best was a 6-2 6-0 6-0 win over Juan Monaco here in 2012.