Djokovic battles through to book Verdasco showdown
Novak Djokovic booked his place in the fourth round of the French Open with a hard-fought victory over Roberto Bautista Agut on Friday.
The 20th seed reached the last 16 – where he will face Fernando Verdasco – at Roland Garros for the 12th time in his career after triumphing 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 on Suzanne Lenglen.
Yet the Serbian - who cruised past Rogerio Dutra Silva and Jaume Munar in the previous rounds - was on court for three hours and 48 minutes before finally recording a fourth successive win over Bautista Agut on clay.
Djokovic claimed a close opening set, clinching the first break in the match in the 10th game to move ahead. When he gained control early in the second, a third successive straight-sets victory in the French capital looked on the cards.
However, Bautista Agut – seeded 13th – hit back, grabbing a break of his own before staving off three set points and prevailing in a tense tie-break thanks to an error from his opponent.
Djokovic smashed his racquet after missing a simple forehand close to the net and there were further signs of frustration when he fell behind early in the next set, too.
But the 12-time grand slam champion overcame the odd lapse to triumph, taking the third via a tie-break after Bautista Agut failed to serve it out and then breezing through the fourth.
A drop of serve when in position to win the match did not matter for Djokovic, though, as Bautista Agut was broken in the next game, sending him through to a tie with Verdasco.
Spaniard Verdasco had earlier demonstrated his class on clay with a straightforward win over disillusioned fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov.
Verdasco saved four set points in the opener on his way to a 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 6-4 triumph, with Dimitrov - knocked out in the third round for a second successive year - declaring afterwards he will be taking a break from the sport.
Djokovic  bt Bautista Agut  6-4 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2
Djokovic - 51/43
Bautista Agut - 42/47
Djokovic - 10/3
Bautista Agut - 3/2
BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic - 8/19
Bautista Agut - 5/8
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Djokovic - 63
Bautista Agut - 59
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Djokovic - 69/55
Bautista Agut - 66/40
Djokovic - 149
Bautista Agut - 131