‘Never say die’ Djokovic survives Cerundolo

World No.1 passes Federer on the all-time Grand Slam win list with improbable comeback

Novak Djokovic, fourth round, Roland-Garros 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Count him out at your own peril. 

Those who witnessed Novak Djokovic’s third-round comeback against Lorenzo Musetti in the wee hours of Sunday morning on Court Philippe-Chatrier know the drill. Those who have followed the 24-time Grand Slam champion’s illustrious career know it as well.

For any uninitiated on Monday afternoon inside one of the world’s biggest showcourts, the tutorial was revelatory: to witness Djokovic engineer a rousing comeback is one of the wonders of tennis.

Riveted fans were sent home with memories that they can one day tell their grandkids – that they saw one of the legends of the sport snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at Roland-Garros. 

Though it ended at a more respectable hour (just before 9pm rather than 3:08am) Djokovic’s 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 Houdini act against Francisco Cerundolo, which lasted four hours and 39 minutes, was in many ways more improbable than his four hour and 29-minute thrillride against Musetti two nights ago. 

“The victory is yours, truly,” victorious Djokovic told the fans after the match. “How I found the level to win today, I don’t know.” 

Story of the match 

On an idyllic, sun-splashed afternoon in Paris, the pair's first meeting started as a breezy fourth-round affair for the top seed, but blue skies quickly went grey in the second set as Djokovic, managing an ailing right knee from the third game of the stanza, encountered significant trouble moving around the court. 

An hour later, still suffering, the three-time champion found himself down by two sets to one and a break... but not out.

Sensing his moment midway through the fourth set, 4-2 down, Djokovic sprung to life and summoned impressive physicality, rallying from a break down and claiming five of the final six games to force a decider. The tone of the match now shifted, the fans now at full throat, Djokovic pushed past the 27th-ranked Buenos Aires native in an electric fifth set to notch a record 370th Grand Slam singles win. 

That number pushes Djokovic clear of his fellow icon and former rival Roger Federer – the Belgrade native now sits atop the list all alone, just as he does on the men’s singles Grand Slam title list, with 24.

And the drive for 25 is still alive...

Key Stats 

On this Monday afternoon-turned-evening in Paris, Djokovic has proven once again that he excels like no other player when his back is against the wall. He improves to 40-11 in five-set matches, and 11-3 in five-setters at Roland-Garros. 

The 37-year-old also breaks the record for most Grand Slam quarter-final appearances, passing Roger Federer on that list as well, with 59.

Djokovic, who needs to reach at least the final to remain No.1 after Roland-Garros, will face Casper Ruud in the quarter-finals. 

Djokovic's knee issue surfaced 'a couple weeks' ago

After the match Djokovic revealed that he has been dealing with a knee issue for several weeks, but added that it was exacerbated by a slip in the second set on Monday.

"For the last couple weeks I have had, I would say, slight discomfort, I would call it that way, in the right knee, but I haven't had an injury that would be concerning me at all. I was playing a few tournaments with it, and no issues until today," he said, adding:

"At one point I didn't know, to be honest, whether I should continue or not with what's happening. I got the medications, and then after the third set was done, I asked for more medications, and I got them. That was the maximum dose that kicked in, as I heard now from doctor after 30 to 45 minutes, which was just about the time kind of end of the fourth when things started to really improve for me. I started to feel less limitations in my movement."

The world No.1 said that the meds enabled him to hit his peak down the stretch against Cerundolo, but he isn't sure if the injury will continue to take a toll on him when he meets seventh-seeded Ruud in the quarter-finals.

"Basically the whole fifth set was almost without any pain, which is great," he said. "But then the effect of the medications will not last for too long, so I'll see. I guess we'll do some more screening and tests and checkups tomorrow, as well. We have done some with doctor right now after the match. Some positive news but also some maybe concerns, so let's see tomorrow. I can't tell you more about it at the moment."