Novak Djokovic cast doubt over his French Open hopes after admitting he needed anti-inflammatory medication to treat a knee injury as he pulled off another astonishing escape in a five-set victory over Francisco Cerundolo on Monday.

The world number one outlasted Argentine 23rd seed Cerundolo 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 for his record 370th win in a Grand Slam match as he reached a 15th consecutive French Open quarter-final.

Whether he takes to the court against Casper Ruud, the player he defeated in last year’s Roland Garros final, remains to be seen after Djokovic said he would undergo medical tests to determine the extent of the damage to his right knee.

Djokovic expressed uncertainty about his ability to play in the coming days.

He mentioned the need for more screening, tests and checkups the following day. Initial examinations with the doctor after the match yielded some positive news but also raised some concerns. Djokovic remains hopeful but cautious about his condition.

After a four-hour, 29-minute win over Lorenzo Musetti that ended at 3:07 AM on Sunday morning in the previous round, the 37-year-old Djokovic was again tested to his physical limits while being impeded by a balky knee.

The Serbian rolled through the opening set but a slip in the third game of the second led to Djokovic taking a medical timeout, and he repeatedly received treatment at subsequent changeovers.

“I started feeling the pain and asked for the physio treatment and the medical timeout and tried to take care of it. It did disrupt me definitely in play,” said Djokovic.

Cerundolo, attempting to reach his first quarter-final at a major, threatened to spring an upset as he capitalized on Djokovic’s discomfort to move two sets to one in front.

The Serbian had already complained about the state of the clay in his match against Musetti, calling for it to be swept at more regular intervals.

He again took aim at the court for “screwing up” his knee and looked to be heading for his earliest French Open exit since 2009 when Cerundolo surged 4-2 ahead in the fourth set.

As he has done countless times, Djokovic displayed his immense powers of recovery to retrieve the break of serve, holding his own in the next game before unleashing a bellowing roar to whip up a crowd that sensed the three-time French Open winner was not done just yet.

Maximum Dose

At one point, Djokovic was uncertain whether he should continue playing due to his condition.

He received medication and requested more after the third set. He was given the maximum dose, which, according to the doctor, would take 30 to 45 minutes to take effect.

This timing coincided with the end of the fourth set, when he began to feel significant improvement.

Djokovic saved a break point to nudge 6-5 ahead and Cerundolo eventually was the first to blink, the top seed capitalizing on a fourth set point to force a decider.

It felt almost inevitable Djokovic pinched a break to open the fifth set. Cerundolo did not go away though, scrambling his way back on serve before Djokovic again vented his ire at the court conditions after an awkward tumble.

“Well done, supervisor and everybody,” he said sarcastically. “Not slippery at all.”

An attempted passing shot from Cerundolo had Djokovic at full stretch doing the splits, an indicator of the tremendous quality still produced from both players despite a grueling battle that spanned four hours and 39 minutes.

Djokovic pounced on his opportunity when it arrived in the eighth game, ripping a forehand winner that clipped the baseline to earn the vital break before he sealed another incredible victory.

Djokovic noted that the entire fifth set was almost pain-free, which he found to be great. However, he acknowledged that the effect of the medications would not last long, leaving some uncertainty about his condition moving forward.

For Cerundolo, so close to the biggest win of his career, it was an agonizing reminder of Djokovic’s enduring greatness.

Cerundolo remarked that Djokovic always finds a way to come back and play his best tennis at the toughest moments and at the end of every match.

Cerundolo felt he did his best and was very close to winning, but ultimately couldn’t overcome Djokovic, who once again demonstrated why he is the best.

With AFP

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