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Novak Djokovic rallies for latest win in French Open history

Novak Djokovic rallies for latest win in French Open history

PARIS — Novak Djokovic‘s French Open title defense — and his hold on No. 1 in the rankings — are still alive thanks to a 7-5, 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 comeback victory over 22-year-old Lorenzo Musetti in a third-round match that lasted 4Β½ hours and did not conclude until Sunday after 3 a.m., the latest finish in tournament history.

It is Djokovic’s 369th win at a Grand Slam tournament, tying Roger Federer for the most in tennis history.

Djokovic briefly looked as if he might be in trouble against Musetti but instead ran away with the final set and now will continue his bid for a record 25th Grand Slam title and fourth at Roland Garros.

Gasping for breath while leaning over with hands on knees, or taking so much time between points that he earned a warning, the 37-year-old Djokovic appeared to be exhausted at times against his much younger opponent from Italy. Musetti was propelled to the lead by a one-handed backhand, a deft touch at the net and a 5-for-5 success rate on break chances.

But Djokovic is a determined problem-solver. And once Djokovic got headed in the right direction in the fourth set, thanks to playing more aggressively on service returns and closer to the baseline during groundstrokes exchanges, the 30th-ranked Musetti could not withstand the charge.

One telling stat: Djokovic improved to 39-11 in fifth sets over his career; Musetti fell to 2-6.

Djokovic has spent more weeks atop the ATP rankings than anyone, but if he fails to return to the final at the French Open, he will cede that spot to Musetti’s countryman, current No. 2 Jannik Sinner.

That’s because a loss in this match would have been the latest in a series of disappointing results in 2024 for the oft-dominant Djokovic, who won 12 of the past 20 Grand Slam events he entered and hasn’t been beaten this early at a major since the Australian Open in January 2017.

Not only hasn’t he earned a trophy at any tournament this season, but he hasn’t even reached a final.

That’s why, a week ago, Djokovic assessed his mindset when arriving in Paris with a 14-6 record this year: “Low expectations and high hopes.”

Those words also might have described Djokovic’s thoughts entering the fourth set against Musetti, who never has been past the fourth round at any Slam.

The bundled-up spectators frequently chanted Djokovic’s first name,…

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