Novak Djokovic into French Open quarterfinals after brief linesperson scare

Novak Djokovic
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In a briefly, frighteningly reminiscent scene, Novak Djokovic stretched out his right arm to return a serve in his French Open fourth-round match against Russian Karen Khachanov. Djokovic got his racket on the ball, but it careened directly into a service linesperson’s mask-covered face.

Fortunately, the linesperson appeared to be fine. Djokovic checked on the official sitting across from the service line, and play continued.

“My gosh, it was very awkward déjà vu,” Djokovic said in obvious reference to his U.S. Open fourth-round default last month. “I’m actually trying to find the linesperson and see if he’s OK because I saw he had a little bit of a bruise, like redness, in that place in the head where the ball hit him. I hope he’s fine. I mean, he definitely dealt with it in a very strong and brave way.”

The top seed Djokovic went on to sweep the 15th seed Khachanov 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, advancing to the quarterfinals without dropping a set in four matches. He next gets 17th seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, the man on the other side of the net for that lamentable U.S. Open incident.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

The only foe to defeat Djokovic in 2020 was his own temper.

In this same fourth round at the U.S. Open last month, Djokovic struck a ball in at least frustration, arguably anger, after having his serve broken. The ball struck a linesperson in the throat, though it was not his intention. He was defaulted from the tournament for what happened, given he struck a ball outside of in-match play that hit an official.

Djokovic was at no fault for what happened Monday, when a well-placed serve gave him little control over his return shot. These things happen.

“Obviously because of what happened in New York, people I guess are going to make the story out of this,” he said. “It has happened to me and to many other players in the last 15 years that I’ve been on the tour. I’ve seen it a lot when the ball ricochets from the racket and the frame, hits someone in the stands, or someone that is close to you or line umpire. Yeah, it was a very awkward situation obviously.”

Djokovic continued a march to what could be a showdown with Rafael Nadal in a Sunday final. The Serbian is going for his 18th Grand Slam singles title, which would move him one behind Nadal and two behind male record holder Roger Federer.

Nadal eyes a 13th French Open crown, which would tie him with Federer in the total major titles count for the first time since they both had zero.

Also Monday, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and No. 13 Andrey Rublev advanced to play each other for the second time since the French Open began. They meet in a Wednesday quarterfinal, 10 days after they played in a clay-court final in Hamburg, Germany, on the same day that play started at Roland Garros.

The Tsitsipas-Rublev winner could play Djokovic in the semifinals.

In the women’s draw, No. 4 Sofia Kenin rallied past 49th-ranked Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, with 17 winners and four unforced errors in the last set. Kenin, the Australian Open champion, gets No. 30 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia or 57th-ranked American Danielle Collins in the quarterfinals.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova made her first French Open quarterfinal in eight years. She gets 66th-ranked German Laura Siegemund.

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the No. 4 seed and Wimbledon champion, are the top challengers in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

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Jessica Pegula upset in French Open third round

Jessica Pegula French Open

Jessica Pegula, the highest-ranked American man or woman, was upset in the third round of the French Open.

Elise Mertens, the 28th seed from Belgium, bounced the third seed Pegula 6-1, 6-3 to reach the round of 16. Pegula, a 29-year-old at a career-high ranking, had lost in the quarterfinals of four of the previous five majors.

Down 4-3 in the second set, Pegula squandered three break points in a 14-minute game. Mertens then broke Pegula to close it out.

“I feel like I was still playing good points. Elise was just being really tough, not making a lot of errors and making me play every single ball. And with the windy conditions, I felt like it definitely played into her game,” Pegula said.

Pegula’s exit leaves No. 6 seed Coco Gauff, last year’s runner-up, as the last seeded hope to become the first U.S. woman to win a major title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major span without an American champ is the longest for U.S. women since Monica Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

Mertens, who lost in the third or fourth round of the last six French Opens, gets 96th-ranked Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 French Open runner-up, for a spot in the quarterfinals.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Friday, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus won a third consecutive match in straight sets, then took questions from a selected group of reporters rather than conducting an open press conference. She cited mental health, two days after a tense back and forth with a journalist asking questions about the war, which she declined to answer.

“For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts,” she said Friday. “These questions do not bother me after my matches. I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday I did not feel safe in press conference.”

Sabalenka next plays American Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion now ranked 30th, who reached the fourth round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the former world No. 3, is into the fourth round of her first major since October childbirth. She’ll play ninth-seeded Russian Daria Kasatkina.

Novak Djokovic continued his bid for a men’s record-breaking 23rd major title by dispatching No. 29 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-2. Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent will be No. 13 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland or 94th-ranked Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas.

Later Friday, top seed Carlos Alcaraz faces 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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