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Who can stop Djoko? Not even the clock!

By Ian Chadband   on   Saturday 28 May 2016
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Novak Djokovic didn't just have to beat Aljaz Bedene but, as darkness descended, he had to win his race against time to speed into the last 16.

Who on earth is going to stop Novak Djokovic now? Not even the clock can beat the world No.1 apparently, if the comical events of a dark night on Philippe-Chatrier Court are anything to go by.

After another one of the tournament’s star attractions in his half of the draw, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was sadly undone by injury on Saturday following Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal 24 hours earlier, the path towards the final has taken on the look of a bit of a cakewalk for Djoko.

Problems have beset other contenders - Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have both had their scares in the first week - but Djokovic has sailed on serenely without ever looking in anywhere near top gear, racing into the last 16 on Saturday evening with a straight-sets win over Slovenian-born Briton Aljaz Bedene.

Indeed, the Serb’s only problem, as it turned out, was getting the job done before darkness descended. Naturally, he succeeded in that too.

At the soggy end of a rain-interrupted day, he basically had a two-hour window of opportunity to complete his first week in the perfect fashion - that is, reaching the fourth round without dropping a set - and with the sort of precision timing that his Swiss rival Roger Federer might have been proud of, Djokovic wrapped it up 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 in two hours and two minutes.

"We played to the maximum extent of time we could, I think, with the light. I'm just glad I managed to finish tonight."

In the end, it all got a little farcical as he rushed to complete the job. Djoko even jokingly clasped his hands together, imploring his opponent, who was not about to go gently into that good night, not to query any more close calls that would necessitate umpire Pascal Maria wasting a few more precious seconds by bounding down from his chair to inspect them.

"Oh, after second set I started thinking about it, honestly," said Djokovic when asked about whether he feared he would have to return on Sunday. "In the beginning, I just focused on my performance. I tried to come up with the right tactics and execution of the tactics, which I did, I think.

"Then (in the third set) the night show started. I dropped my serve, the games were very long, Pascal was on fire. He was coming down from his chair. Yeah, and we went deep into night. We played to the maximum extent of time we could, I think, with the light. I'm just glad I managed to finish tonight."

Press conference: Novak Djokovic R3

The man who needs to win the title to complete his career Grand Slam was so delighted to win with the clock showing 9.30pm that he even roped in Maria to join him for the post-match TV interview. You will never seen a more reluctant interviewee ...

This was a win that, while routine, presented him with a decent work-out. It is a credit to Bedene, the world No.66 who has taken British citizenship after representing his native Slovenia until last year, that he should give Djokovic enough problems to keep the great man up so late.

It had all started off quite ominously for him with Djokovic earning an immediate break and shooting into a 3-0 lead. Yet often, when he was expecting to wrap up a service game quickly, the 26-year-old Bedene - appearing in the third round of a slam for the first time in his career - would make Djokovic work harder than he wanted with his crisp shot-making.

Djokovic may not have appreciated some of the excellence of his opponent’s play but he was quick to applaud it. “Shot!” he shouted across the net after being left floundering by one flashing Bedene forehand.

As Djokovic raced through the second set, Bedene produced a brilliant game to earn a break back and interrupt his progress and, much to the tournament favourite’s chagrin, he did the same in the final set after immediately going 2-0 down.

Eventually, though, nothing, not even the clock, was going to prevent Djokovic sorting out his date with Roberto Bautista-Agut, - a straight-sets victor over Borna Coric - in the last 16.

Asked about some of the weird happenings - Federer's absence and Nadal's withdrawal - that have disfigured the tournament, Djokovic shrugged: "Rafa played terrific the opening couple of rounds here. Then something happened. If he retired from the tournament, then something really is serious, because he's one of the greatest competitors that the game has ever known.

"It's sad to not have him in the tournament. But again, we keep on going, and, you know, I'm still in and I'm just hoping it's going to go well for me."

Like clockwork, actually.

R3 Highlights: Novak Djokovic v. Aljaz Bedene
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