PARIS: Novak Djokovic recovered from a mediocre start to reach the French Open quarter-finals on Wednesday with a 3-6 6-4 6-1 7-5 rain-delayed victory over plucky Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.
The world number one, chasing the only grand slam title to elude him, will take on either former runner-up David Ferrer of Spain or Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych.
After conceding the opening set in damp conditions on Tuesday, Serbian Djokovic played tighter and had won the second set and was 4-1 ahead in the third when rain cut short his victory charge on day 10 of the championships.
Back on Court Philippe Chatrier on Wednesday for a match that should have been played on Monday, Djokovic closed it out but encountered stiff resistance from the 14th seed, who forced him into lung-busting rallies.
“He’s a player with great qualities on claycourts. I have the feeling I played three matches against him,” said Djokovic, wearing courtside interviewer Fabrice Santoro’s yellow rain hat.
“I had to come back focused today.”
The match started a day late after Roland Garros suffered its first washout in 16 years. A second delay was threatened on Tuesday as steady drizzle fell on Paris and Djokovic found it hard to adjust.
After an early exchange of breaks, Bautista Agut stole the Serb’s serve in the sixth game with an overhead shot, bagging the opening set as he finished off a long rally with a forehand winner.
The supervisor sent the players to the dressing room for almost three hours and Djokovic, always the joker, came back with an umbrella.
He finally converted a break point at his eighth attempt to lead 5-3, levelling the match with a backhand winner. The Serb stayed focused and opened up a 4-1 lead in the third set before the match was again interrupted by rain.
On Wednesday, Djokovic picked up where he had left off, winning two games to wrap up the third set.
His Spanish opponent hit long and hard and, after the Serb netted a routine overhead smash to gift him a break point, Djokovic sent a backhand long to fall 4-2 behind.
He broke back in the following game and again in the 11th when Bautista Agut netted a backhand at the end of another long rally, serving it out at lunch time.
Should he make it to the last four, Djokovic will have to play on three consecutive days as his quarter-final and semi-final matches are scheduled on Thursday and Friday.