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Djokovic sneaks through after five-set epic

ESPN staff
June 3, 2012 « Djokovic: I played very badly | Chartbeat test »
Novak Djokovic is still on track to hold all four grand slams simultaneously © PA Photos
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Novak Djokovic teetered on the precipice of elimination from the French Open, before storming back to beat Andreas Seppi in a five-set classic in Paris.

World No. 1 Djokovic was hanging by a thread at Roland Garros when he lost the first two sets, but he recovered to triumph 4-6 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5 6-3 in four hours 18 minutes. He will next face either Stanislas Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals.

With the victory, he has kept alive his dream of becoming the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four grand slam titles simultaneously - although how much the match has taken out of him physically will only become apparent in the later rounds. Before the Seppi contest, Djokovic had not dropped a set at this year's tournament.

Djokovic struggled against both the wind and a brilliant performance from Seppi, who can never have played better, before eventually edging through.

Seppi had lost all seven of his meetings against Djokovic going into this one, and his chances of ending that streak appeared slim when he surrendered a break in the second game of the match. However, Djokovic was in generous mood, coughing up unforced errors and looking stiff in breezy conditions, which allowed Seppi to break back.

And Seppi grabbed another against the serve to take the first set, as Djokovic seemed to struggle with both his footwork and confidence, opting to play safe shots when the space was there to fire potential winners.

It was a big ask for Seppi to repeat how he played in the first frame, but he managed it while never letting caution take over against a tentative Djokovic. Seppi had the opportunity to serve for the second stanza, which he wasted as Djokovic levelled up after converting his first break point of the set.

However, the tiebreak went Seppi's way, with Djokovic looking more and more disgruntled and his groundstrokes failing to carry the whip and fizz that his opponent's did; the gusts of wind had seemingly convinced him to play it safe.

Djokovic kept himself alive by taking the third set with four breaks of serve; Seppi, who had been through two five-setters coming into the match, was beginning to show the early signs of fatigue.

When Djokovic pierced the Seppi serve early in the fourth, the momentum seemed to have shifted decisively towards him - but the lower-ranked man hit back, marrying mental toughness to technical skill.

However, In the 12th game of the fourth it was Djokovic who dug the deepest, landing another break to force a deciding set.

The weather was distinctly calmer in the fifth set, and Djokovic took advantage with some of his most composed tennis of the match, sealing victory with another break.

Djokovic will meet either fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or No. 18 seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the last eight. Their last-16 clash was suspended due to darkness, with Tsonga leading 4-2 in the fifth set.

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