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Novak Djokovic suffers knee injury during French Open victory

Alex de Minaur has a problem. He had the occasional outing with his team, this cheerful 25-year-old from Sydney, an excuse to shrug it off and promise to catch them next time a clay court match went badly. He just wasn’t cut out for the red stuff, he thought, and his record at the French Open showed that. He is ranked No. 11 in the world – and was in the top 10 earlier this year – even though he has never made it past the second round at Roland Garros.

But now he has raised expectations by upsetting No. 5 Daniil Medvedev, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3, on Monday to advance to the quarter-finals in Paris.

“I always thought that to play well on clay I needed warm, lively conditions,” said de Minaur, whose best Grand Slam results have come on bouncy, fast hard courts. “But you know, this whole tournament has proven otherwise, right? It’s been a complete shock to the system, to everything I’ve ever believed in. The hardest part now is dealing with my team, because they obviously have bragging rights, and they’re giving me a lot of space because I’ve been complaining all these years. my level on the clay.”

De Minaur grinned then, and on Monday he deserved his giddiness. He was the lone gate crasher on a chalky day that saw the last American man, No. 12 Taylor Fritz, fall to No. 7 Casper Ruud, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 . The quarter-finals bring Ruud a repeat of last year’s final against defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Fritz was the first American man to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since 2020 and was seeking his first quarterfinal appearance at the French Open. But Ruud, a two-time finalist at Roland Garros with 20 wins on clay on the ATP Tour this season, rallied from 1-5 in the first set tiebreak, showing he would not fold easily.

Even after Fritz won the second set, Ruud moved so well and trapped Fritz in the corners so often that he fought back and won a messy third set after Fritz broke his serve early.

“I said to myself, ‘Time to take it a step further.’ (I would) do my best to just get in the zone and stay there,” Ruud said.

Djokovic might have told himself the same thing when he won his second five-set match in a row, a 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Argentinian Francisco Cerundolo. left him with an injured right knee and a hint of doubt about whether he will be able to continue playing.

“The good thing about the Slam is that there is a day in between, which will hopefully make the healing process more efficient for me,” Djokovic said. “That’s it. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or after tomorrow if I can get on the field and play. You know, I hope so. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

If he can meet Ruud, the 37-year-old Serbian will do so as the record holder for match victories at Grand Slams: he reached 370 on Monday. Roger Federer retired with 369.

Djokovic said his knee had been bothering him for some time, but he adjusted it so much early in the second set on Monday that he needed anti-inflammatory drugs to finish the match.

“I couldn’t change direction the way I wanted. A lot of the drop shots he played, I couldn’t run. And he saw it,” he said. “Francisco saw it, so he played a lot of drop shots, most of which I just looked at and that was it. Didn’t move.”

It took about 45 minutes for the drug to kick in, after which Djokovic looked like his old self – or rather, his young self – and pulled off some amazing feats. With Cerundolo serving in the fifth set, the Argentinian hit a passing shot so far to Djokovic’s left that he had to stretch in near-splits as he slid to reach it, landing on his stomach, with his legs and arms thrown wide. Of course, Djokovic then had only one thing to do: he smiled and mimicked a swimming motion with his arms on the clay while Cerundolo clapped.

It was all fun and games for now. But Djokovic spent a lot of time after the match talking about the court conditions – the same discussion De Minaur had – after a week of rain in Paris and how that may have contributed to his injury. He said he has asked the groundskeepers to sweep the court more than every set break, but has been denied.

“The drier conditions, the sun and the warmer conditions, it affects the clay in such a way that it becomes very slippery,” Djokovic said. “So the knee injury I had today happened exactly because of that, because I slipped, and I slide a lot. I mean, everyone slips on clay, but I slipped way too many times.”

The women’s quarter-finals will also feature many familiar faces.

No. No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka defeated No. 22 Emma Navarro, 6-2, 6-3, and No. 3 Elena Rybakina defeated No. 15 Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 6-3, to join No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 1 to be added. 4 Coco Gauff in the last eight. That means the top four women’s seeds will compete in the quarterfinals of the French Open for the first time since 2013.

Sabalenka next plays unseeded Mirra Andreeva for a chance at her seventh consecutive Grand Slam semi-final. Andreeva, a Russian who turned 17 in April, defeated the last French player, Varvara Gracheva, 7-5, 6-2.

Andreeva joined Gauff (in 2021) and Amanda Anisimova (in 2019) as the only women’s player since 2006 to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam before turning 18. She goes, as a young prodigy would, by feel – perhaps to the chagrin of her coach, 1994 Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez.

“I’m just playing, kind of. For example, even when we talk about the match, about the plan, about the tactics, I listen, but honestly I don’t remember anything after that,” Andreeva said. “I have nothing in mind when we start the match. So I just go there and I think, ‘Well, we’ll see. I’ll figure it out.’ That’s how I always play.”

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