PARIS (Reuters) - Former champion Novak Djokovic wore down obdurate Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut to grind out a 6-4 6-7(6) 7-6(4) 6-2 victory in the French Open third round on Friday.
Still fighting to find the form that took him to 12 majors, Djokovic huffed and puffed and demolished a racket in anger near the end of the second set, before regaining his composure to set up a last 16 clash with Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco.
It was never comfortable for the 31-year-old Serb, though, and he found himself in dire trouble in the third set when dropping serve to love at 3-4.
He fell back on his old survival instincts, however, breaking back in the following game before playing a solid tiebreak to move to within a set of victory.
Thirteenth seed Bautista Agut, playing just a few days after the death of his mother, lost some belief in a fourth set played out in drizzle and Djokovic quickly wrapped up victory.
After consoling his opponent at the net Djokovic saluted the crowd who raised their umbrellas in approval.
“It was a magnificent four hours of tennis, I’m very tired but delighted to come through,” 2016 champion Djokovic said on court in accomplished French. “He plays with so much consistency you have to have patience.”
Djokovic is playing at his lowest seeding at a Grand Slam since 2006 having dropped to 22 in the world rankings but has now reached the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the 43rd time — second on the all-time list behind Roger Federer.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge