Novak Djokovic was pushed to his limit in a physically punishing French Open encounter by Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Friday and the 36-year-old twice champion said he had accepted the fact that his body behaved differently now.
The Serbian, who is seeking a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam title to overtake the injured Rafa Nadal, spent more than three hours on court – much of it battling away in two exhausting opening sets – before prevailing 7-6(4) 7-6(5) 6-2.
Djokovic’s run to the Australian Open title in January came despite a problematic left thigh injury and he also missed the Madrid Open in the build-up to Roland Garros with a niggling elbow issue.
“We don’t have much time to start to name the many injuries I have, and the list is quite long,” Djokovic told reporters. “I don’t want to sit here and talk about these things that are not preventing me from playing. I still kept on playing.”
Djokovic called the trainer onto the court after the second set to have his left leg looked at again, sparking fears about how durable his body will be for a Paris title charge.
“These are the circumstances that you, as a professional athlete, have to deal with. Accept it. Sometimes you need help from the physio during the match. Sometimes you need pills,” Djokovic said.
“Sometimes you need help from God or angels. Sometimes you just have to deal with the reality. Reality for me nowadays is that my body is responding differently than it did a few years ago. I have to adjust to this new reality.
“But, at the end of the day, I managed to finish the match. And on the court you try to do your best, everything possible, so you can finish the match and win.”
Djokovic, who will play 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz or Juan Pablo Varillas in the fourth round, said he was happy with his overall game despite four tiebreaks in three matches.
“Can it be better? Certainly,” Djokovic said.
“I still didn’t drop a set… Look, it’s important to keep going. I’ve been in this situation a lot of times in my career, so entering the second week you have to expect that the matches are only going to get tougher.
“But if they don’t get tougher, then it’s great, but I have to be ready for it.”