Nadal imperious in Paris as Djokovic battles through
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal advanced to the fourth round of the French Open in sharply contrasting fashion on Friday, the Serbian reigning champion battling hard to avoid an upset after his long-term rival produced another exhibition of Roland Garros mastery.
Nadal annihilated Nikoloz Basilashvili as he targets a 10th title in Paris and 15th overall, but it was a very different affair for Djokovic, who twice had to come from behind to beat Diego Schwartzman in a five-set thriller.
David Goffin and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez both retired hurt and Grigor Dimitrov bowed out, but Milos Raonic and Dominic Thiem remain in the hunt for a quarter-final berth.
TWO BAGELS AND A BAGUETTE FOR RAFA
If Nadal is the King of Clay, Roland Garros must be his favourite palace. And the Spaniard held court in supremely commanding fashion on Friday, beating the unfortunate Basilashvili 6-0 6-1 6-0, the most comprehensive victory of his illustrious career at the grand slam venue in Paris.
Georgian Basilashvili could only hit five winners in the match, which lasted - by slam standards - a particularly brisk 94 minutes.
"The score is quite embarrassing but I have to accept it," said Basilashvili, before departing the throne room, as Roberto Bautista Agut prepares to petition the sovereign in the fourth round, having seen off Jiri Vesely in straight sets.
DJOKOVIC DIGS DEEP
Schwartzman put Djokovic's attempted renaissance under new superstar coach Andre Agassi to the test, the Argentinian leading by two sets to one before the holder eventually asserted himself to pull clear, winning 5-7 6-3 3-6 6-1 6-1.
The Serbian was given a code violation and two time violations, and also made 55 unforced errors in an unpredictable contest that stretched out to three hours and 18 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.
And while the defence of his crown remains on track, that length of match was scarcely ideal preparation for facing Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who won his own five-set thriller against a stricken Lucas Pouille.
THIEM'S UP FOR BRAVE JOHNSON
Steve Johnson has earned plenty of admirers for his courageous passage through the first two rounds of the tournament, his father having suddenly and unexpectedly passed away just weeks ago.
The American was in tears at the net after getting past Borna Coric last time out, but he proved unable to extend his brave campaign, Thiem winning 6-1 7-6 (7-4) 6-3. The in-form Austrian, who stunned Nadal in Rome last month, goes up against Horacio Zeballos next.
POSITIVE PROGNOSIS FOR INJURED GOFFIN
Argentine Zeballos advanced in unfortunate circumstances, Goffin having been forced to retire while 5-4 up in the first set of their contest.
The Belgian 10th seed suffered a freak injury when he tripped over on the court covers, which were situated well behind the baseline, twisting his right ankle in the process and needing to be helped off by two trainers, although his coach later confirmed Goffin had, thankfully, escaped serious injury.
Raonic also benefitted from a retirement, the Canadian fifth seed 6-1 1-0 up when Garcia-Lopez had to pull out due to a thigh injury. Raonic will tackle Pablo Carrena Busta next, after the Spaniard ousted 11th seed Dimitrov in straight sets.