Thursday, May 24, 2018
Sports

Djokovic wins, turns grief into Grand Slam goal

PARIS — Less than 48 hours after learning of the death of his childhood coach, Novak Djokovic was on court at the French Open, determined to complete a career Grand Slam in honor of the woman he likened to a "second mother."

Still grieving, Djokovic began shakily Monday. Six of the match's first seven unforced errors were his. After one poor exchange, he chucked his racket hard enough to break it. He dropped a set for the only time in four matches so far.

After recovering quickly to dispatch 16th-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and reach the quarterfinals at a 16th consecutive major tournament, Djokovic spoke from the heart about the passing of Jelena Gencic, who was 76.

"It hasn't been easy, but this is life. You know, life gives you things (but also) takes away close people," Djokovic said. "We were very close throughout my whole life, and she taught me a lot of things that are part of me, part of my character."

Gencic connected with a 6-year-old Novak at a tennis camp then worked with him for five years.

"I feel even more responsible now to go all the way in this tournament," said the No. 1-ranked Djokovic, who owns six Grand Slam titles but none from Roland Garros. "I want to do it for her."

He'll need to beat three more opponents to accomplish that, starting with 12th-seeded Tommy Haas, who at 35 became the oldest French Open quarterfinalist since 1971 by eliminating Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in less than 1½ hours.

If Djokovic can get past Haas, he'll find a familiar foe in the semifinals: seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who played his first relatively routine opening set of the tournament and put together a 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 13 Kei Nishikori.

Nadal, who beat Djokovic in last year's final and is 56-1 in his French Open career, declared: "I played much better today than the first three matches. No doubt about that."

Consider that something of a warning for No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka, who was trailing by two sets when he got into an extended and animated argument with the chair umpire, demanding that a line judge be replaced. Wawrinka slowly, steadily turned the match around and edged No. 7 Richard Gasquet 6-7 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6.

Gasquet tired as the match stretched past four hours. Asked afterward where he felt pain, he replied: "In the soul, for sure. A little bit in the leg, too. But more in the soul."

Women's defending champion Maria Sharapova moved into the quarterfinals by beating 17th-seeded Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3.

The other two Americans in action also exited in straight sets: 54th-ranked Jamie Hampton, regarded as one of the strongest young Americans, lost to 18th-seeded Jelena Jankovic 6-0, 6-2, and 67th-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands was beaten by 12th-seeded Maria Kirilenko 7-5, 6-4. Kirilenko now meets Victoria Azarenka, a 6-3, 6-0 winner over 2010 French Open champ Francesca Schiavone.

. KEY MATCHES

Today

Men: Roger Federer (2) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6); David Ferrer (4) vs. Tommy Robredo (32)

Women: Serena Williams (1) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova; Agnieszka Radwanska (4) vs. Sara Errani (5)

TV: 5 a.m., Tennis; 1 p.m., ESPN2 (taped)

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