Djokovic and Alcaraz reach French Open round of 16 as Pegula and Rublev exit

Elise Mertens defeated third seed Pegula in straight sets

Elise Mertens defeated third seed Pegula in straight sets

Novak Djokovic battled to the French Open fourth round for a 14th consecutive year on Friday as Carlos Alcaraz also progressed, after women’s third seed Jessica Pegula and men’s world seventh Andrey Rublev were knocked out of the tournament.

Djokovic grabbed headlines for his Kosovo comments this week, but his progress on the court was relatively smooth, reaching week two without dropping a set.

The Serbian star was forced to work hard by Spain’s 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who served for the first set and missed a set point in the second, but won 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 on Court Philippe Chatrier.

“I thought if I lost the second set we would play five hours today, but I’m proud of the performance,” Djokovic said.

Two-time champion Djokovic, who has also reached the French Open quarter-finals in each of the past 13 years, will face Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas in the round of 16.

The 36-year-old is hoping to break his tie with injured rival Rafael Nadal at the top of the list of all-time great male winners at Roland Garros.

He is just one title behind Serena Williams’ mark of 23 Grand Slams and two behind Margaret Court’s overall record.

Djokovic, who is set to meet world number one Alcaraz in the semi-finals, has now won three of his four matches with Davidovich Fokina.

The first two sets lasted two hours and 47 minutes, as Davidovich Fokina provided a stern test of Djokovic’s form.

But the world number three broke when trailing 6-5 in the first set before overturning a 3-1 deficit to win a tie-break.

Davidovich Fokina missed a set point to level the game before Djokovic won another breaker before being booed by the crowd for taking a medical time-out.

“It’s something that I find disrespectful and I honestly don’t understand that,” said Djokovic, who made short work of the third set.

Alcaraz defeated Canada’s 26th seed Denis Shapovalov for the loss of just seven games in the night game.

The Spaniard cruised to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory, with the only slight blow coming when they trailed 4-1 in the second set.

He clinched seven consecutive games after that awakening, however, to set up a fourth-round meeting with Italy’s 17th seed Lorenzo Musetti who dismantled British number one Cameron Norrie 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

“I knew I would have my chances in the second set to come back a bit and that’s what I did,” Alcaraz said.

The 20-year-old is targeting a second straight Grand Slam title after winning the 2022 US Open and then missing the Australian Open this year through injury.

– Stunning Sonego –

Italian Lorenzo Sonego fought back after two sets to knock out Rublev and reach the last 16 for the second time.

World No. 48 was two points clear of defeat in a fourth-set tie-break but prevailed 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 after three hours and 42 minutes.

Sonego will face Russian 11th seed Karen Khachanov for a possible quarter-final meeting with Djokovic.

“I played more aggressive than in the first and second sets because when he’s aggressive it’s hard to compete with him,” he said.

Eleventh seed Khachanov ended Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis’ run with an entertaining 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7/5) victory.

Stefanos Tsitsipas continued his bid for a maiden Grand Slam title with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over former semi-finalist Diego Schwartzman.

The Greek fifth seed, who blew a two-set lead over Djokovic in the 2021 final, will next face Austrian qualifier Sebastian Ofner after playing Week 2 for a fifth consecutive year.

American Pegula’s hopes were dashed by a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Belgium’s Elise Mertens.

World number three Pegula has never made it past the quarter-final stage of a Grand Slam tournament.

The former Australian Open semi-finalist will next face 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

– Sabalenka ‘not sure’ –

Aryna Sabalenka declined to give an official post-match press conference after reaching the last 16 for the first time with a straight-sets win over Kamilla Rakhimova.

The Belarusian claimed she “didn’t feel safe” when asked to condemn her country’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine during a press conference earlier this week.

The second seed is yet to drop a set in the tournament after a comfortable 6-2, 6-2 win over world number 82 Rakhimova.

Sabalenka will face former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the fourth round.

Last year’s semi-finalist Daria Kasatkina of Russia beat American Peyton Stearns 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour.

The ninth seed will next face Elina Svitolina on Sunday for a spot in the quarter-finals.

Ukraine’s Svitolina reached the fourth round in her first Grand Slam appearance since the 2022 Australian Open with a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Anna Blinkova.

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