Djokovic subdues Bedene in third-round repeat

Top-seeded Serbian sets Schwartzman clash for quarter-final berth

Novak Djokovic Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Roland-Garros six years ago will always invoke a pang of nostalgia for Novak Djokovic.

Aljaz Bedene was his third-round victim en route to landing his maiden Coupe des Mousquetaires as record floods swept Paris that year and on Friday, the pair crossed paths at the same stage, on the same court with the same outcome.

The 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 scoreline was symmetrical to that of 2016 and whether the triumph served as Djokovic’s lucky omen in his pursuit of a third Roland-Garros would become apparent within the next 10 days.

Djokovic had not fallen before the quarter-finals in Paris in 13 years and his now 195th-ranked opponent – whose recent seasons were littered with injuries – faced a huge task to land his first win in the pair’s four meetings.

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2022, third round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Story of the match

Bedene announced in an interview with Sportklub that this would be his swansong appearance in Paris, with plans to retire after Slovenia’s Davis Cup tie against Estonia to become a football manager at the end of the season.

If this was to be his final match at Roland-Garros, he was determined to go down swinging.

Under pressure from the get-go, Bedene needed to pluck an outstanding backhand stop-volley winner off his shoelaces to hold his opening service game and produced another flawless backhand drop volley to fend off break point two games later.

It was a sign of just how well he would need to play to stay the course with the 20-time Grand Slam champion.

Before a swag of celebrities, including former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and actors Woody Harrelson and Owen Willson, it did not take long for the Serbian to shift it up a gear.

A break in the sixth game was enough to set the tone for the opening set and as the sun made a return to Chatrier, the top seed had carved out an imposing two-set advantage after 72 minutes.

While he admitted it had taken two tournaments to hone his game and find his feet on clay, the recently turned 35-year-old began to build momentum in Madrid before running into the current tour de force, Carlos Alcaraz.

He was positively purring on his way to a fifth Rome title and that form has only carried through his opening three rounds.

The third set was in the bag in under half an hour as Djokovic ventured to the fourth round for the 16th time, sealing his 20th consecutive set to send Bedene one stop closer to his new job.

Argentine 15th seed Diego Schwartzman was next.

Key stats

The 32-year-old Bedene could barely dent the top seed’s serve, coming up empty-handed from a sole break point chance.

Djokovic conceded just seven points on his first serve, with nine aces, and won 72 per cent on his second delivery.

His forehand was particularly damaging as he picked off 24 winners off that wing, while 13 of 17 points won at net made for a perfectly rounded all-court performance.

What the winner said

“It's subjective. You can't play a perfect match but you always try to play close to perfection. I have big expectations on my level every day, whenever I enter a tennis court, when I am at training, to try and play my aggressive tennis. It's not always possible but today, I did really well.

“I have grown in Serbia playing a lot on this surface (clay). But all tournaments are different. Here in Paris, the courts are perfect. It is a very high standard, it's one of the greatest tournaments in the world so motivation is easy to find.”