PARIS – Being such a perfectionist, Novak Djokovic is not quite happy with his French. His play? That's a different story.
After reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros for a men's-record 12th consecutive year with another easy win Saturday, the 18-time Grand Slam champion from Serbia was doing rather well speaking French until he was asked to get a bit more technical and talk about the playing conditions, then his next opponent.
“Sorry, I am trying to learn more words," the No. 1-ranked player said with a self-depreciating smile as he fumbled a bit for more specific vocabulary. “I have used up 90% of my French.”
Courtside interviewer Cedric Pioline encouraged him, and so Djokovic obliged.
“The conditions were different. How do you say in French?” Djokovic said, this time truly lost for words.
So he moved his hand to describe the height of the ball bouncing in overcast and cool conditions compared to hot conditions in the previous two rounds, and looked hopefully across to Pioline, who helped him out with a couple of words.
“The bounce was lower," a relieved Djokovic said. "I think I coped well.”
His next opponent is a 19-year-old Italian, Lorenzo Musetti.
“He is a young player who plays with a lot of spin, speed,” Djokovic said, measuring his words out slowly but surely. “He has nothing to lose, so I need to be ready for this challenge.”
That was enough Français for one afternoon.
“Stop there, please!” Djokovic implored Pioline in French, quickly moving his hands together and then apart as a film director would when shouting “Cut!”
Djokovic was clearly in high spirits, tilting his head back and laughing. And why not? In his 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory against 93rd-ranked Ricardas Berankis, Djokovic never faced a break point and compiled 30 winners to only 18 unforced errors.
Djokovic, who has dropped a total of 23 games across three matches so far, was still chuckling as he walked slowly off the court and into the fourth round once again.
With the help of a couple of “magic” shots, Lorenzo Musetti is just the sixth man since 2000 to reach the fourth round of his first career Grand Slam tournament.
And he wasn’t even the only 19-year-old from Italy to get to the round of 16 at the French Open with a victory Saturday: Jannik Sinner is joining Musetti in Week 2 this year, after making it to the quarterfinals in 2020. The 18th-seeded Sinner beat Mikael Ymer 6-1, 7-5, 6-3.
“Me and Jannik, I think we are the future of Italian tennis,” said the 76th-ranked Musetti, “and ... tennis in general.”
It's the first time in 15 years that there are two teens from anywhere — let alone the same country — in the fourth round at Roland Garros; Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils did it in 2006.
Musetti produced two highlight-reel shots — maybe the two best of the entire season — during his 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win against 2018 French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato.
One came after being lured forward by Cecchinato's drop shot, then sent scrambling toward the baseline by a lob. Musetti flicked a back-to-the-net, off-to-the-side, no-look backhand lob of his own that floated over and past Cecchinato and landed in.
The other one, which came earlier in the match, topped that, somehow: a wrapped-his-arm-around-his-torso backhand volley on a point that Cecchinato began with an underhand serve.
With a gesture that screamed, “Are you not entertained?!” Musetti spread his arms out wide as the crowd went wild.
Musetti later described that volley as “unexpected” and “a little bit more magic.”
“I had, also, a laugh about it, because, I mean, I wanted to do it,” Musetti said, “but if I try, like, 10 times, probably (I'm not) going to do it ... one time.”
KOSTYUK'S NEW SELF-VIEW
Still a teen, Marta Kostyuk is playing in her fifth Grand Slam tournament, and in her Week 2 debut at a major she'll face quite a challenge: going up against defending French Open champion Iga Swiatek.
The 81st-ranked Kostyuk made it to the round of 16 at a Slam for the first time by eliminating Varvara Gracheva 6-1, 6-2 on Saturday.
Kostyuk was a junior Grand Slam champion who made her debut in the main draw at that level at age 15. Now, with her 19th birthday approaching on June 28 and three wins this week, Kostyuk has a different self-view.
“I’m not coming here as, like, a talented young girl, beating high-ranked players, higher-ranked players. I’m actually the one this time that is supposed to win,” Kostyuk said. “Honestly, in my head, I don’t feel like I’m in fourth round at all. It’s just another win for me. It’s just another match for me on Monday."
Not against just another opponent, however.
Swiatek erased an early 4-2 deficit and wound up defeating 30th-seeded Anett Kontaveir 7-6 (4), 6-0.
That means Swiatek has won 20 sets in a row at the French Open. Last year, she became the first woman since Justine Henin in 2007 to win the title without ceding a set.
Diego Schwartzman is strolling through this year's French Open, on and off the court.
The 10th-seeded Argentine has yet to drop a set. An added bonus is that he can walk around Paris for a bit on days when he doesn't have a match.
“It’s a very special place for me and I’m very happy to be back, playing my best tennis again and with a crowd," 2020 Roland Garros semifinalist Schwartzman said after beating Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 on Saturday. “Last year was my best tournament here and not many people could come. I’m happy to play with a lot of people this week.”
Last year, players had to stay in their hotels before and after matches or practice because of coronavirus rules. No hanging out — at all.
At least now, they're allotted an hour a day to see the city. Which might not seem like a lot, but it's a big change from the last trip to the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
So Schwartzman keeps looking forward to those chances to “walk around Paris a bit in the afternoon."
AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed.
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