Djokovic on emotional crusade

‘‘At the end, life has much more important things than win or lose a tennis match,’’  Rafael Nadal said   after easing into the French Open quarter-finals. The point would not be lost on his chief rival  Novak Djokovic, who suffered a  bereavement when his childhood coach and ‘‘second mother’’ Jelena Gencic passed away at the weekend.

At the memorial service in Belgrade on  Monday, Djokovic’s real mother Dijana read out a letter from her son. Novak described Gencic,  who had coached him from the age of six,  as an angel and said ‘‘not being able to see you off makes me endlessly sad’’.

In other circumstances, Djokovic would surely have returned to Serbia. But the last time he spoke to Gencic,  a fortnight ago, he promised her  he would do his utmost to bring back the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

‘‘Listen, you have to focus,’’ she told him. ‘‘This is a tournament you need to win.’’ She also deliberately withheld the truth about her illness. At 77, she must have known  her breast cancer was becoming  serious, yet she said  she was in hospital for a routine check-up.

Djokovic’s  rivals will  be supportive and sympathetic.  Yet they must also be groaning at the idea of the world No.1 on an emotional crusade.  That, however, is exactly how Djokovic is  looking at this tournament.

‘‘I feel even more responsible to go all the way,’’ he said on Monday  night. ‘‘I want to do it for her, because she was a very special person in my life.’’

If Djokovic is to deliver on his promises, he has three more matches to win at this tournament after beating Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber on Monday.

He never quite found his most irresistible form, dropping the first set on a cold and windy afternoon  but, even so, Kohlschreiber never threatened an upset. Djokovic will next play Tommy Haas, who is the oldest man – at 35 – to reach the quarter-finals in Paris since 1971.

As for Nadal, he had a stroke of luck when his next opponent  Stan Wawrinka was pushed to the very limit in an extraordinary five-set match with Richard Gasquet.

Despite hitting a mind-boggling 92 winners, Wawrinka had to fight all the way to 8-6 in the decider.

In the women’s tournament,  Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Jamie Hampton and Sloane Stephens all lost in straight sets, the latter 6-4, 6-3 to defending champion Maria Sharapova.  Serena Williams, who faces Svetlana Kuznetsova  in the quarter-finals, is still going strong.

The Daily Telegraph

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