Djokovic hits back to progress
Novak Djokovic fought back from two sets to love down against Italy's Andreas Seppi in the fourth round of the French Open on Sunday.
The world number one was out of sorts all match but has proved himself a man for the big occasion many times and did so again to triumph 4-6 6-7 (5/7) 6-3 7-5 6-3 after four hours and 18 minutes.
It was the seventh successive five-set match that Djokovic, who has not lost before the quarter-finals of a slam for three years, has won and the third time he has fought back from two sets down in his career.
The cold and windy conditions were far from ideal but there was no sign of the problems to come as Djokovic raced through the first three games.
Seppi had taken only two sets off the world number one in seven previous meetings, although he has been having a very good season and won Djokovic's tournament in Belgrade last month in the absence of the man himself.
Seppi was striking the ball extremely well and a drop in Djokovic's level, with the top seed making an unusual number of unforced errors, saw him level proceedings at 3-3.
And it was to get better from there for Seppi, who had never got past the third round at a grand slam before beating Fernando Verdasco two days ago.
The 22nd seed broke again in the ninth game and then held his nerve to serve out the opening set, saving a break point.
Djokovic had made 17 unforced errors and seemed to be struggling to get his footwork right in the windy conditions, but it was far from a crisis at this point.
The alarm bells rung a bit more when Seppi nailed a backhand winner to break in the fifth game of the second set, but this time he could not serve it out, gifting Djokovic the break back with a forehand over the baseline.
That seemed to be the turning point but Seppi refused to lie down and snatched an extremely tense tie-break when Djokovic netted a forehand.
The Serb was certainly out of sorts but winning four out of five grand slams has given him plenty of confidence that he can dig himself out of tricky situations, although normally against higher-calibre opponents.
Djokovic fought back from two sets down against Roger Federer in the US Open semi-finals last year, saving two match points, and also came through epic five-setters against Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in January.
He was still struggling, though, and twice gave away breaks in the third set before finally making one stick.
The fourth set resembled the first, with Djokovic getting off to a flier, but he missed the chance to go 4-0 up and was pegged back again.
Another tie-break looked in the offing but this time the 25-year-old managed to seize his moment in the 12th game.
It now seemed a question of when not if and, after Seppi rather donated a break with a tame double fault, a relieved Djokovic finally clinched victory with a drive volley.
The Serb, who made 77 unforced errors, will certainly need to play better, though, if he is to get past either Stanislas Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals, let alone threaten Rafael Nadal for the title.