Novak Djokovic’s case as the man to beat at Roland-Garros has gained further credence following a resounding victory over potential clay-court bogeyman Diego Schwartzman on Sunday.
Djokovic powers into 16th RG quarter-final
Defending champion eases past 15th-seeded Schwartzman and awaits Nadal or Auger-Aliassime
Story of the match
Markedly more fine-tuned since his opening two clay-court events of the season in Monte-Carlo and Belgrade, Djokovic was timing his run to perfection in Paris.
The world No.1 shifted up a gear after a semi-final defeat to Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid and has claimed 22 sets since.
From two break points down in the third game, the top seed held and was barely troubled again in a 38-minute opening set.
Schwartzman was up against a frighteningly strong front-runner. Of 372 Grand Slam matches played, Djokovic had taken the first set in 279 of those and fallen only five times after taking the opener.
The Argentine needed to make inroads on the top seed’s serve and gained the early second-set ascendancy when he broke for 2-0.
With French football legend Thierry Henry watching from the stands, Djokovic was at his supple best, working his way deep behind the baseline to land the break back with an inside-out forehand winner.
The 20-time major champion was highly economical as he prolonged any rally his opponent tried to dictate and he knew the 15th seed was reeling at having let his second-set lead slip.
After five straight games against him, Schwartzman was desperate to stem the flow as he served to stay in the set.
A magnificent angled backhand volley from Djokovic amped up the pressure and after an hour and 28 minutes he had taken a two-set lead.
Schwartzman had never beaten the world No.1 in six prior encounters but held a 20-7 record on clay this season, including back-to-back finals in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
The Argentine bounced back from two sets down to deny Jaume Munar in the second round and then gushed over Paris – the site of his sole Grand Slam semi-final two years ago – following his trouncing of Grigor Dimitrov.
Time was running out if he was to extend his stay in his favourite city.
A break in the sixth game of the third set all but sealed his fate and despite dogged resistance to save match point two games later, the result was complete at the two-hour, 15-minute mark.
A reputation as arguably the sport’s greatest returner was only enhanced on Sunday as the Serbian put consistent pressure on his opponent’s serve.
Schwartzman won just 56 per cent of first-serve points and only eight of 25 on his second delivery.
Djokovic kept the Argentine guessing throughout, picking off 29 winners, 20 backhand drop shots and 26 of 31 net points.
The shorter the exchanges the more dominant he was as he claimed 38 points to Schwartzman’s 23 when the rally was four shots or less.
What the winner said
"I have a lot of respect for him. He is a very good person, on and off the court, and he is a specialist on clay, so it was not easy with the conditions we have today, with low rebounds on the court, but I think I have done well.
"I managed to serve well at the right moment. I am satisfied. I congratulate him on a good tournament and I wish him the best for the rest of the season.
"It never ends. Of course you're satisfied during the tournament but there's work to be done."