Djokovic beats Coric on 10th match point to set up Thiem showdown
Novak Djokovic produced another promising performance to beat a battling Borna Coric in straight sets and move into the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters, but spurned nine match points before eventually sealing victory.
The former world number one said he was playing without pain for the first time in two years after thrashing Dusan Lajovic in the first round on Monday.
That triumph was the 12-time grand slam champion's first since the Australian Open in January and he followed it up with a 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 triumph over Coric to set up a clash with Dominic Thiem.
Djokovic, who recruited former coach Marian Vajda last week, looked sharp with stoic defence and his forehand firing on Court Rainier III, and kept his composure even as Coric kept the contest alive by repeatedly saving match points.
The ninth seed from Serbia, a two-time champion in Monaco, saved a break point in an opening game that lasted eight minutes and took a 3-1 lead when his 39th-ranked opponent made a mess of an overhead.
Djokovic was in the groove, unleashing rasping forehand and backhand winners as he opened up a 4-1 lead, but his 21-year-old opponent was back on serve when the favourite fired a backhand wide.
Coric spurned a great chance to go a break up at 6-5 when he drilled a backhand beyond the baseline and paid the price for an error-strewn tie-break, which was comfortably won by Djokovic.
There were three breaks in a row at the start of the second set, Djokovic taking a 2-1 lead after winning five consecutive points.
Coric looked beaten at 40-0 down with Djokovic on the verge of serving it out, but after saving two match points in the previous game, the defiant Indian Wells semi-finalist fended off another seven before breaking back.
Djokovic hit back immediately, though, Coric thudding a backhand into the net to go 6-5 down. Another stray backhand from the Zagreb native finally ended the contest after two hours and 15 minutes.