Hobbling Novak wins record 370th match

AP
Novak Djokovic set a record but an troubled right knee might hamper his campaign in the French Open. / AP

PARIS — Novak Djokovic was laying on his back on a French Open sideline early in the second set Monday, wincing while his injured right knee was manipulated by a trainer — and worrying that he might need to quit playing the match.

After stumbling and limping around, then finding himself down by a set and a break against a younger, eager opponent, Djokovic regained his verve with the help of what he said a tournament doctor told him was the maximum dose of pills allowed to dull the pain and reduce any inflammation.

So, yes, Djokovic kept at it and came back to win in five sets across about 4 1/2 hours for the second consecutive time, surging past No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the fourth round at Roland Garros for his record 370th win in a Grand Slam match. But here’s the catch: Djokovic said he could not be certain whether he would be healthy enough to play in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow — or after tomorrow, if I’ll be able to step out on the court and play,” the 37-year-old Djokovic said. “You know, I hope so. Let’s see what happens.”

Djokovic said the knee has bothered him for a couple of weeks, chalking it up to wear and tear, and it got worse after he tweaked it against Cerundolo. Djokovic took a medical timeout at 2-1 in the second set, was treated by the trainer on subsequent changeovers, and was given more medicine after the third set.

“I didn’t know, to be honest,” Djokovic said, “whether I should continue or not.”

Eventually, he felt better and could move without restrictions, and his level of play soared accordingly.

This was the second consecutive five-set comeback victory that lasted about 4 1/2 hours for Djokovic, who is ranked No. 1 and the defending champion in Paris. He said that accumulation of time was not a problem; his knee was, however.

Djokovic is supposed to meet No. 7 seed Casper Ruud on Wednesday. Ruud, who eliminated No. 12 Taylor Fritz 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 Monday, lost to Djokovic in the French Open final last year and to Rafael Nadal in the 2022 title match.

“The effect of the medications will not last for too long, so I’ll see,” Djokovic said. “I guess we’ll do some more screening and tests and checkups tomorrow.” / AP

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