WORLD No1 Novak Djokovic paid tribute to his late coach yesterday after bouncing back from a set down against German Phillipp Kohlschreiber to reach his 16th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final.
The Serbian played with light feet and a heavy heart at the French Open after learning about the death of his childhood mentor, Jelena Gencic, 77, and won 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
“It hasn’t been easy, but this is life,” said Djokovic. “We were very close throughout my whole life and she taught me a lot of things that are part of me, part of my character today, and I have the nicest memories of her.”
Kohlschreiber went toe to toe with the six-time Grand Slam winner up until the fifth game, when he earned a break point and a lucky net cord realised a two-game lead. He made full use of his serve advantage and secured a 1-0 set lead.
Djokovic found his rhythm in the second set and saved six break points before converting his own chances and claiming the second set.
The Serb won the third despite his serve being tested again, and recovered from a break in the fourth to see off the 16th seed and set up a last-eight meeting with Tommy Haas.
Seven-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal celebrated his 27th birthday by gliding past Kei Nishikori, 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 and will meet Stanislas Wawrinka, who survived a five-set heart-stopper against Frenchman Richard Gasquet, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6, in the quarter-finals.
In the women’s draw, world No2 Maria Sharapova beat 20-year-old American Sloane Stephens to reach the last eight, 6-4, 6-3.