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Updated: June 4, 2012 02:02 IST

Djokovic fights back to reach the last eight

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PLEASED AS PUNCH: Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova is ecstatic after ending top seed Victoria Azarenka's campaign in the fourth round at Roland Garros on Sunday.
AFP PLEASED AS PUNCH: Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova is ecstatic after ending top seed Victoria Azarenka's campaign in the fourth round at Roland Garros on Sunday.

Cibulkova knocks out top seed Azarenka; Indian players in mixed doubles quarterfinals

Top seed Novak Djokovic staged an epic French Open fourth round recovery to defeat Italy's Andreas Seppi 4-6, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 on Sunday and salvage his dream of making Grand Slam history.

Earlier, Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia downed top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to pull off a major upset in fourth round action The 15th seed won 6-2, 7-6(4).

Djokovic, the world No.1, bidding to become just the third man to hold all four majors at the same time, and first since 1969, struggled in the cold conditions on Philippe Chatrier court against a player he'd beaten seven times in seven meetings.

“I played very badly, but I won thanks to my fighting spirit,” said Djokovic.

Headed for despair

And for the first two sets on Sunday, he was heading for more misery and the biggest shock since Rafael Nadal had his perfect 31-match, four-title stretch smashed by Robin Soderling at the same stage in 2009.

But the top seed regrouped to record his third win from two sets to love down after pulling off similar Houdini acts against Federer in the U.S. Open semifinal last year and Wimbledon second round against Guillermo Garcia Lopez in 2005.

Djokovic looked on course for a routine afternoon's work when he broke in the second game of the first set on his way to a 3-0 lead.

But 22nd-seeded Seppi, playing in his first Grand Slam fourth round match at the 29th attempt, and thriving in the bleak June weather, hit back in the fifth game and broke again to nudge ahead at 5-4. A long forehand from Djokovic handed the 28-year-old Italian the opener, only the third set he had won against the Serb in his seven previous meetings.

The world No.1 continued to struggle with his timing and footwork in the second set and was broken to trail 2-3 with Seppi quickly backing it up with two love service games for a 5-3 lead. Seppi was pinned back to 5-5 as the Serb stopped the rot but the Italian, with his confidence buoyed by a claycourt title in Belgrade in the run-up to Paris, prevailed in the tie-break when a lacklustre Djokovic netted a forehand.

The heavy court continued to plague Djokovic and a break he carved out for a 3-2 lead in the third set was handed back in the sixth.

Bouncing back

But, from nowhere, he summoned breaks in the seventh and ninth games to capture the third set.

He was 3-0 up in the fourth set, having won six games in succcession, but Seppi refused to buckle and pulled back to 3-3. However, a pinpoint forehand crosscourt passing shot, picked up off his toes, gave Djokovic set point in the 12th game and the last 16 tie was level as Seppi could only find the net. The decider was dominated by the Serb who broke for 4-2 as a wilting Seppi, who had played five-set matches in the second and third rounds, double faulted.

After four hours and 18 minutes, Djokovic secured his 25th successive Grand Slam match victory courtesy of a big, swinging forehand.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in January and had been expected to coast past Cibulkova having beaten her seven times out of eight previously.

But the little Slovakian, who reached the semifinals here in 2009, handled the cold, windy conditions on the Suzanne Lenglen court far better than the tall Belarusian.

After losing the first set, Azarenka appeared to be getting back on track as she broke to lead 2-0 in the second, but 23-year-old Cibulkova dug deep to run off four games in a row.

Azarenka levelled at 4-4, with the set then going to a tie-break which a pumped-up Cibulkova led from the start to pull off a stunning win.

In mixed doubles, Indian stars made it to the last eight by winning in straight sets.

While the seventh-seeded pair of Mahesh Bhupathi & Sania Mirza posted a 7-6(4), 6-3 win over Virginie Razzano and Nicolas Devilder 7-6(4), 6-3, Leander Paes and Elena Vesnina, seeded fifth, dropped just two games in the first set against Mathilde Johansson and Marc Gicquel.

Keywords: French Open

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