PARIS,May 29: Novak Djokovic set up a possible quarter-final meeting with old rival Rafael Nadal at the French Open with an impressive straight-sets victory over Diego Schwartzman on Sunday.
The reigning champion, bidding to equal Nadal’s men’s record of 21 Grand Slam titles, eased to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 victory in his last-16 tie against 15th seed Schwartzman.
“I have a lot of respect for him (Schwartzman). He’s a good person off the court,” said Djokovic. “He’s a clay specialist… But I played well and held my serve.”
Djokovic is playing in a major tournament for the first time this year after being deported from the Australian Open, where Nadal won his 21st Slam, over his Covid vaccination status.
The world number one is still to drop a set at Roland Garros after cruising through the first week.
“I’ve made a good start but I have a lot of work to do,” added Djokovic who will face Nadal for the 10th time at Roland Garros if the 13-time champion defeats Felix Auger-Aliassime later Sunday.
The 35-year-old is looking for a third French Open title after securing a second crown last year by defeating Nadal in the semi-finals and coming back from two sets behind to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.
Djokovic took his head-to-head record against Argentinian Schwartzman to 7-0 with a clinical display, in which he saved seven of the eight break points he faced.
He is into a 16th French Open quarter-final and has not failed to reach that stage since 2009.
The Serbian star saved two break points in the third game of the match before racing through the opening set.
The second proved to be far more competitive, though, as Schwartzman took a 3-0 lead before being broken back as the top seed reeled off three quick points.
Djokovic had to stave off three break points to level the set at 3-3 and made it five straight games with a gutsy hold after Schwartzman dropped serve again.
A series of blistering baseline shots wrapped up the set, leaving Schwartzman needing to become only the second man to come back from two sets down to win against Djokovic at a Grand Slam.
Schwartzman continued to consistently put Djokovic’s serve under pressure without being able to apply the killer touch, seeing another breakpoint come and go in the fifth game of the third set.
The pattern of the match continued, as Djokovic broke in the very next game to all but end the tie as a contest.
Schwartzman saved a match point in game eight to force Djokovic to serve it out, which he did, to love. (AFP)