Alexander Zverev survives French Open epic as Novak Djokovic eyes Roger Federer record

Alexander Zverev celebrates after beating Tallon Griekspoor at the French Open. Picture: Bertrand Guay / AFP

Alexander Zverev celebrates after beating Tallon Griekspoor at the French Open. Picture: Bertrand Guay / AFP

Published Jun 1, 2024


Alexander Zverev came back from the brink of defeat to reach the French Open last 16 for a seventh successive year on Saturday as Novak Djokovic took aim at equalling Roger Federer's record for Grand Slam match wins.

World number four Zverev, who effectively ended Rafael Nadal's Roland Garros career in the first round, came through against Tallon Griekspoor 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (10/3) despite trailing the Dutchman 1-4 in the decider.

The 27-year-old German, who is playing under the shadow of an ongoing trial in Berlin over allegations of assaulting an ex-girlfriend, stayed on course for a last-four showdown with defending champion Djokovic.

"Incredible match, incredible player. He's unbelievably dangerous. I always struggle against him," said Zverev after the four hour, 14-minute marathon.

Djokovic, chasing a fourth title at Roland Garros and 25th career major, will go level with Federer on 369 Grand Slam match wins if he sees off Italian 30th seed Lorenzo Musetti in the night match.

Djokovic has defeated Musetti four times in five meetings.

However the Italian gave the Serb a major scare at the French Open in 2021 when he won the first two sets of their fourth round clash before retiring injured in the decider.

Djokovic arrived in Paris having not won a title or even reached a final in the season for the first time since 2018.

Adding injury to insult, he was accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome before suffering stomach problems in Geneva.

However, he hasn't dropped a set in two matches and cracked an impressive 43 winners past Spain's 63rd-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena on Thursday, dropping just seven games.

Fifth seed Daniil Medvedev beat Tomas Machac 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 to reach the last 16 for the third time.

Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime booked a fourth round clash against Carlos Alcaraz after sweeping past Ben Shelton of the United States 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in one of three ties which had been suspended on Friday.

Best of friends

The rain which has impacted all seven days at Roland Garros caused more havoc Saturday with five hours lost in the afternoon.

World number two Aryna Sabalenka, however, had the advantage of playing under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier where she stormed back to defeat close friend Paula Badosa.

Two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka downed the Spaniard 7-5, 6-1 by reeling off 10 of the last 11 games.

Badosa had served for the first set at 5-3 but was eventually over-powered by Sabalenka who is into the second week in Paris for the second year in a row.

Sabalenka, a semi-finalist in 2023, has made at least the last four at her past six Grand Slams and is expected to be Iga Swiatek's chief rival in the Pole's bid for a fourth French Open title.

"I just tried to play my best, play for every point. I knew I could come back," said Sabalenka.

Next up for the Belarusian is a clash against either Madison Keys or Emma Navarro for a spot in the quarter-finals.

With Sabalenka joining Swiatek, Coco Gauff and Elena Rybakina in the next round it is the first time in 11 years that all top four seeds have made the second week.

Rain pain

In an indication of the scheduling chaos, the women's third round tie between Russia's Mirra Andreeva and Peyton Stearns of the United States was moved from Court 6 to Court 7 and then Court 2.

The 17-year-old Andreeva eased to a 6-2, 6-1 victory in just 67 minutes and will face Russian-born Varvara Gracheva for a quarter-final spot.

Rybakina advanced to the last 16 with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Belgium's Elise Mertens.

Chinese seventh seed Zheng Qinwen was knocked out in the third round, losing in three sets to Russia's Elina Avanesyan.

Zheng, a semi-finalist at the Australian Open in January, went down 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10/6) to world number 70 Avanesyan who also made the fourth round in 2023.