FRENCH OPEN 2018:  Djokovic Beats Verdasco to Reach Q’finals

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Novak Djokovic strengthened his claims as a French Open contender by reaching the quarter-finals with a straight-set victory over Spain’s Fernando Verdasco.

Djokovic, seeded 20th, won 6-3 6-4 6-2 against 30th seed Verdasco.

The 31-year-old Serb has reached the last eight at Roland Garros for a 12th time – an Open era record.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion will play Marco Cecchinato in the last eight after the Italian upset Belgian eighth seed David Goffin.

Djokovic, who won his only Roland Garros title in 2016 to complete a career Grand Slam, was not considered among the pre-tournament favourites following an injury-hit year.

The former world number one has dropped down the rankings to 22nd after taking time off with an elbow injury following last year’s Wimbledon. He also needed a minor operation after making a comeback at the Australian Open in January.

However, he is quietly going about his business in Paris and has dropped only one set on his way to the last eight.

Djokovic may still not playing at the same level as he was at the peak of his powers, but his movement and defensive ability – two of his great hallmarks – look good enough to trouble most opponents.

Greater tests than Verdasco, who had beaten Djokovic in three of their previous four meetings on clay but not since 2010, will lie ahead.

If Djokovic beats Cecchinato he will meet either German second seed Alexander Zverev or Austrian seventh seed Dominic Thiem – who have won more Tour matches in 2018 than any other player – in the last four.

He would not face 10-time champion Rafael Nadal – a rematch of the 2012 and 2014 finals – until the final.

Djokovic made a slow start in a one-hour opening set, which took longer than the entire match between American Sloane Stephens and Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit that had preceded it on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Errors from both players made it an entertaining, if not high quality, opener as they battled it out from the baseline.

Djokovic broke for 3-1, seeing out the decisive moments in a set where he won only three more points than his opponent.

The Serb broke serve at the first opportunity in the second set, Verdasco wiping out that deficit for 3-3, only to gift it straight back in a poor service game.

Verdasco, who beat fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets in the previous round, needed treatment for blisters as Djokovic was made to wait before serving out for two-love lead.

From that point there was no way back for the Spaniard, who was aiming to reach his first Roland Garros quarter-final at the 15th attempt.

The third set was straightforward for Djokovic, who broke at the first opportunity and again in the fifth, before serving out to win in two hoursand 25 minutes.

He punched the air in delight before celebrating by wearing a white beret flung on to the court and doing his now-customary arm throw to all four sides of Chatrier.