World number one Novak Djokovic overcame early physical struggles to beat Pablo Carreno Busta and reach the French Open semi-finals. The Serb arrived on court with tape on his neck, repeatedly massaged his left biceps and grimaced on his way to losing the first set, but went on to win 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-4.
It was a rematch of September’s US Open encounter where Djokovic was defaulted for hitting a line judge with a ball. Djokovic faces Stefanos Tsitsipas next.
“I definitely didn’t feel great coming into the court today,” Djokovic, 33, told a news conference.
“A few things happened in the warm-up. I had to deal with those physical issues coming on to the court. As the match went on, I felt better, didn’t feel as much pain.
“But, you know, I don’t want to take away anything from his good performance. Especially for a set and a half he was the better player, dictating the play.”
It was just 31 days since the pair met in the US Open fourth round and the Serb was disqualified after taking an angry swipe at a ball and sending it accidentally into the throat of a line judge. This time the focus was not on the tennis either.
There were times in the first set when Djokovic looked ready to give up – at one point he signalled to his team with a gesture across his throat that suggested he was done with the match and he was clearly uncomfortable.
In between points he pummelled himself on the top of his arm, stretching his arms or whacking his thighs with his racquet, also receiving visits from the physio at the changeovers.
Carreno Busta took full advantage, breaking twice to take the opening set as Djokovic looked increasingly dejected.
After more physio, a swig of a drink sent down from his team and some dates, Djokovic’s level improved as he took the second set in efficient fashion.