Djokovic struggles with injury, stages comeback to win French Open

The unstoppable world number one found a way to persevere just when it looked like Novak Djokovic’s French Open might be in jeopardy. Djokovic overcame a nagging knee problem and a two-set deficit to pull off an impressive comeback victory over Francisco Cerundolo in the fourth round on Monday.

However, his championship effort is now in doubt as he faces a race against time to recover for the quarter-finals.

There is a problem with the knee

The first signs of trouble came in the second set when Djokovic began to feel discomfort in his right knee. He took a medical break and lay down while the trainer massaged and manipulated the ailing joint. Djokovic continued to win and adjusting the knee over the next few hours.

«It was a magical night to get through,» said Djokovic, whose right leg was heavily taped at the end. “I don’t know how I survived without major damage.

Down and almost out

Leading 23rd-seeded Argentinian Cerundol by two sets to one, Djokovic faced a 4-2 deficit in the fourth and appeared on the brink of a shock defeat. But the 22-time Grand Slam champion just didn’t go away.

Djokovic played through obvious knee pain and was increasingly aggressive. He stepped onto the court, took bigger swings and started hitting deeper shots.

Sensing a momentum shift at Philippe Chatrier, the pro-Djokovic crowd erupted when he earned a break at 4-4 in the fourth set. «The only explanation for how I found a way to win again is you,» Djokovic told fans. «Thank you!»

Djokovic was trailing 4-3 in the deciding set but roared back, even taking breaks for an incredible defensive scramble. He eventually put away the rugged Cerundolo 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 after 4 hours, 28 minutes of action-packed action.

Milestone win, uncertain future

The dramatic victory was the 370th Grand Slam victory of Djokovic’s career, breaking a tie with Roger Federer for the all-time men’s record. The 37-year-old Serb also became only the fifth man to reach the age of 59 in his career Grand Slam quarter finals.

However, the knee problem is currently casting a shadow over Djokovic’s immediate future. He said he felt it for several weeks, but it got worse at the start of Monday’s game. He took «maximum doses» of anti-inflammatories and painkillers, which helped him get through season five virtually pain-free.

The big question is whether Djokovic can recover in time for Wednesday’s quarter-final showdown against No. 4 seed Casper Ruud, last year’s runner-up.

«I don’t know until tomorrow if I can go out and play,» admitted Djokovic. «I hope so. I’ll have another scan and see how things go.» Had Djokovic been healthy enough, he would have been a heavy favorite against Ruud after beating him in straight sets in last year’s French Open final to claim his 21st major title.

Other quarter matches

In the second half of the draw, No. 6 Holger Rune surprisingly knocked out No. 4 Casper Ruud in a marathon 4-hour, 40-minute battle that ended at 1:40 a.m. on Tuesday. Rune will face either No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz or No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals.

The other quarter-final pits 22nd-ranked Alexander Zverev against 11th-ranked Alex de Minaur, who became the first Australian to reach French Open quarterfinal since Lleyton Hewitt in 2004 defeating Daniil Medvedev in four sets.

But all eyes will be on Djokovic to see if the player who has made resilience his trademark can once again find a way to overcome the latest adversity in pursuit of an elusive 23rd Grand Slam title.

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