Tuesday 19 September 2017

Tennis: Djokovic vows to 'go all the way' at Roland Garros in tribute to late mentor

Novak Djokovic returns against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in their fourth round match
Novak Djokovic returns against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in their fourth round match

Simon Briggs in Paris

"AT the end, life has much more important things than win or lose a tennis match," said Rafael Nadal after celebrating his 27th birthday by easing into the French Open quarter-finals.

The point would not be lost on his chief rival, Novak Djokovic, who suffered a painful bereavement when his childhood coach and "second mother" Jelena Gencic passed away over the weekend.

At the memorial service in Belgrade yesterday, Djokovic's real mother, Dijana, read out a gracious and emotional letter from her son.

Djokovic described Gencic – who had coached and mentored him from the age of six – as an "angel" and said: "Not being able to see you off makes me endlessly sad."

The last time he spoke to Gencic, just a fortnight ago, he promised her that he would do his utmost to bring back the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

"Listen, you have to focus," the 77-year-old told him. "This is a tournament you need to win."

Djokovic's chief rivals will no doubt be supportive and sympathetic. As Ernests Gulbis complained last week, the leading players are unfailingly polite to each other. Yet they must also be groaning at the idea of the world No 1 being on an emotional crusade. He is good enough without an extra cause to fight for.

That, however, is exactly how Djokovic is now looking at this tournament. "I feel even more responsible to go all the way," he said. "I want to do it for her, because she was a very special person in my life."

Djokovic saw off Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber yesterday. He failed to find his best form, dropping the first set on a cold and windy afternoon, but even so the German never threatened an upset.

Djokovic will next play Tommy Haas, who yesterday became the oldest man – at 35 – to reach the quarter-finals here since 1971.

As for Nadal, he had a stroke of luck when his next opponent, Stanislas Wawrinka, was pushed to the limit in an extraordinary five-set match with Richard Gasquet.

Despite hitting a mind-boggling 92 winners, Wawrinka had to fight all the way to win the decider 8-6. He spent four hours and 16 minutes on the court, which won't help the thigh injury he has been carrying for a few weeks now.

Wawrinka-Nadal has the makings of a classic, because Nadal looked to be finding his way back to some kind of form in a straightforward 6-4 6-1 6-3 eviction of Kei Nishikori. At 122 minutes, it was his shortest match of this French Open.

Meanwhile, Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka beat 2010 Roland Garros winner Francesca Schiavone 6-3 6-0 in the women's fourth round. The Belarussian's sound effects have been compared to those made by jet liners or even women giving birth and, with Schiavone also chipping in with her kung-fu style yelps, it was definitely not a contest for the purists. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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