• French Open, Day Seven

Djokovic fends off Del Potro as Nadal sails into last-16

ESPN staff
May 28, 2011
Novak Djokovic claimed victory in four sets © PA Photos

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Novak Djokovic shrugged off the challenge of Juan Martin del Potro to reach the fourth round of the French Open as defending champion Rafael Nadal motored into the last-16 with a dominant victory over Croatia's Antonio Veic.

Djokovic, who extended his unbeaten streak to 42 matches with his 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-2 victory, will replace Nadal as world No. 1 if he reaches the final at Roland Garros, but while the pair remain on a collision course for the final, their third-round opponents could not have been more different.

While Nadal faced relative minnow Veic, ranked No. 227 in the world, Djokovic had drawn the short straw - former US Open champion Del Potro, who is on the comeback trail from a serious wrist injury. Del Potro, a semi-finalist in Paris two years ago, has risen from No. 485 to 26 since the beginning of the year.

With the pair scheduled to play on Friday, their match was switched to Court Suzanne Lenglen after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's match against Stanislas Wawrinka went to five sets, and when darkness began to close in, play was suspended with the match finely poised at one set apiece.

They returned to the court following Andy Murray's straight-sets win over Michael Berrer, and it was Del Potro who started the brighter, forging two break points in the fifth game.

In what proved to be the turning point, Djokovic saved two break points after an epic rally before going on to break and take the third set. And an early break in the fourth put him on course for a hard-fought victory as he clinched his place in the fourth round with a perfectly-executed drop shot.

Rafael Nadal hit top gear against Antonio Veic © PA Photos

Having been taken to five sets by John Isner in his opening match, Rafael Nadal's form was questioned when he was pushed hard by fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar in the second round. But Nadal looked to be approaching his imperious best as the five-time Roland Garros champion blazed to a 6-1 6-3 6-0 victory over Antonio Veic on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The top seed burst out of the blocks and stormed to a 4-0 lead in the opening set to lay down a marker to the world No. 227. However, an inconsistent forehand gave Veic a sniff in the second, and although Nadal's superior shot making saw him clinch the set with relative ease, it was far from convincing from the top seed, who was broken twice.

By this time Veic was flagging, and Nadal motored through the third set for his most comfortable victory yet. It may not have been flawless tennis, but it was clinical from the Spaniard, who converted nine of ten break point opportunities.

Nadal will now meet another Croatian, albeit a tougher test in the guise of Ivan Ljubicic, who stunned No. 16 seed Fernando Verdasco 6-3 7-6(6) 6-4.

Mardy Fish was the last American man standing, but his challenge came to an end at the hands of home favourite Gilles Simon. The American, bidding to reach the last-16 of a grand slam for the first time, was outclassed by the No. 18 seed, who sets up a fourth-round clash against two-time finalist Robin Soderling who had no trouble in disposing of Leonardo Mayer 6-1 6-4 6-3.

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