Novak Djokovic’s emotional baggage could yet lift him to his first title in Paris
Rafael Nadal finally produces his A game to win 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 against 13th seed Kei Nishikori
Novak Djokovic of Serbia on his way to beating Philipp Kohlschreiber at the French Open yesterday. Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Novak Djokovic is carrying the sort of emotional baggage into the second week of the French Open that might bury a lesser individual and which could yet lift him to his first title in Paris. After his four-set win over Philipp Kohlschreiber yesterday to reach the quarter-finals for the fourth year in a row, the Serb spoke eloquently and at length about the death of a woman he described as, “one of the most incredible people I ever knew” - his childhood coach, Jelena Gencic.
The world No1 was not told that Gencic, 77, had died of breast cancer until he came off court on Saturday night, having beaten Grigor Dimitrov in three sets, and he says his final conversation with her two weeks ago at her home in Belgrade has given him the “inner strength to push even harder” to win the tournament.
“Jelena was my first coach, like my second mother,” he said. “We were very close throughout my whole life and she taught me a lot of things that are part of me, part of my character today, and I have the nicest memories of her. She dedicated all her life to the generation and to tennis. She never got married, she never had kids. Tennis was all she had in life.
“Before she passed away, she was giving lessons to kids last week. She didn’t care about the illness. She’s one of the most incredible people I ever knew.”
Djokovic added: “I feel even more responsible now to [continue her coaching work] and go all the way in this tournament. The last conversation we had, two weeks ago, she told me, ‘Listen, you have to focus, you have to give your attention to this tournament. This is a tournament you need to win.’ it’s not about me only. There are so many great players still in the tournament.”
The one who stands in Djokovic’s way on his side of the draw, Rafael Nadal, finally produced his A game to win 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 against 13th seed Kei Nishikori, the first Japanese man since Fumiteru Nakano in 1938 to reach the fourth round here.
It has been a tough tournament for the Spaniard. For the first time in his long French reign he has twice had to come from a set down - against unseeded opponents, as well - to get into the third round, where he found some form against Fabio Fognini. If we come away from this French Open with perceptions that differ from slams of recent years one might be that the game’s acknowledged masters appear to be more vulnerable going into the second week than for quite a while.
As for Djokovic, it must be said that he was not as commanding against 16th seed Kohlschreiber as he had been in breezing through the first week, before winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. He plays his second German in two days when the oldest player left in the tournament, 35-year-old Tommy Haas, steps up for what should be a quarter-final more charged than yesterday’s match.