Novak Djokovic is still at the French Open, but only after a long four-set fight Wednesday night against Pablo Carreño Busta, the Spaniard who won at the US Open when the number 1 in the world was disqualified for scoring an official line with a reserve ball. It was not a joyful reunion.
A month after their shared drama in New York, Carreño Busta had the idea of winning on his own merits after winning the first set of the second quarterfinal on day 11, but Djokovic ignored the nagging pain in his upper arm. left and in the neck as he crosses together a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win in 3 hours and 10 minutes under the lights of Court Philippe Chatrier. He has two days to recover before playing Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday and will need every waking hour.
Djokovic was shy about his injuries afterwards and just said: “I had neck and shoulder problems. I’m still in the tournament, so I don’t want to give too much away. I feel good. As the game progressed, I warmed up and the pain subsided. It allowed me to play better and feel better. “
Carreño Busta questions the severity of Djokovic’s injuries. “It’s normal, isn’t it? It always does [such gestures], “He said.” In recent years he has always done so when he has problems on the pitch. I don’t know, maybe it’s the pressure or something he needs to do it. But keep playing normal, right? I don’t know if he’s really in pain or if he has mental problems [issues]. “
If the 2016 champion wants to win the title again he has to beat an injury, a fit Tsitsipas and, arguably, the 12-time champion, Rafael Nadal, who plays Diego Schwartzman in the other semifinal. It’s the kind of mountain Djokovic likes to climb, but the question remains: is he fit and strong enough to reach the top?
Djokovic was allowed to play in Rome, where he beat Schwartzman in the final, and in Paris after testing positive for coronavirus during his Balkan exhibition tour in the early summer – but it looked like a physical disaster in the first set. Sweaty and anxious, he grimaced, tugged at his bandaged arm and neck, and tried to hit the waist in the upper legs with his racket as his opponent waited for his chances.
The tournament physiotherapist massaged Djokovic’s arm during the break and the player told him: “Now he feels better.” Yet he didn’t seem remotely comfortable, even when he got his serve to work and seemed to tie each other. The manager returned between the third and fourth games and seemed to lift Djokovic’s morale. Just when it looked like it was slipping back into a confused state, it bounced back to the level of one set each.
He broke early in the third, passed a blip when Carreño Busta came back for 2-3, then hit hard again to go set up. But he seemed far from commanding. Carreño Busta put his feet on the clay of Roland Garros in the fourth and Djokovic had to fight for every point. Carreño Busta chose a painful option to give him the lead for 3-4, Djokovic saved the break point to hold the two for 5-3 and served to survive, his final was a bad cross straight.
Although Djokovic remains undefeated in 36 matches completed this year, he is not as happy now as when he made it through the first four games of the tournament to lose just 25 games. This was an erratic and nervous performance, saved by the grit and class of a player who many observers considered a slight pre-tournament favorite. On the eve of the semifinals, this is everyone’s French Open.