Before it got any worse, Djokovic turned things around, fought off an unthinkable upset and kept his chances alive for the “Novak Slam.”
Djokovic completed his third career comeback from two sets down Sunday, shaking off 81 unforced errors—the same number he had in his first three matches combined—for a 4-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory over surprisingly game 22nd-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy.
“Today, I played a very poor match,” Djokovic said.
Other than the fact that he grinded it out and won, and that his hopes of winning his fourth straight Grand Slam tournament are still alive, there wasn't much to build on from this win, his 25th straight in the majors.
A cold front and a big rainstorm blew through Paris overnight; Sunday morning on the grounds felt sleepy and quiet, both in the stands on down on the courts. Across the way from Djokovic, the top-seeded woman, Victoria Azarenka, got off to a similarly bad start, except she never recovered—a 6-2, 7-6 (4) loser to No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova that left her grumpy.
Azarenka bashed her racket into the ground during a second-set changeover and received a warning for racket abuse.
Her frustration was still showing after the match, when, asked what she would do to recover from the loss, she answered sarcastically.
“I'm going to kill myself,” she said. “This tournament is over for me. What's to recover from? It's (time) to really look forward and improve. That's it.”
For a while, it looked like both top seeds would be out on the middle Sunday, but Djokovic refused to let the weather or his own problems keep him down.
“I was fighting very hard,” he said. “Even when I was two sets down, I still believed that I could win.”
Djokovic made it to his 12th straight Grand Slam quarterfinal and added this two-set comeback to a list that includes last year's comeback against Roger Federer in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows, when he saved two match points before escaping.
This one never got that close, and after an early break in the third set—the first of seven Djokovic recorded over the final three sets—there was a sense of inevitability. The match took 4 hours, 18 minutes, though it figures the gray skies and temperatures in the low 60s won't take too much of a toll on the world's top-ranked player.
While he awaits the winner between Stanislas Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, the women's draw is as wide-open as ever.
Azarenka found company on the sideline with former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 6-0, 7-5 loser to 21st-seeded Sara Errani of Italy.
The Williams sisters, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and former champions Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone are among the others already gone with the second week just getting under way. Li Na is the only former French Open champion still in the draw.
“I'm happy and curious,” said Errani, now in her second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal. “The strongest sensation is curiosity—to see how far I can go, and up to what level I can arrive. Even I don't really know.”
Errani's next opponent is 10th-seeded Angelique Kerber, a 6-3, 7-5 winner over Petra Martic. Kerber had only one victory in her previous four appearances at Roland Garros. She now finds herself two wins away from playing for the title and wondering: Why not her?
“It's a new situation,” Kerber said. “I've played good from the beginning of the year. I think the players know right now who I am, and, yeah, I think nobody wants to play against me right now.”