Novak Djokovic mourns death of first coach Jelena Gencic
Death of first coach leaves Serbian devastated after celebrating a convincing straight-sets third-round victory at Roland Garros
Novak Djokovic's day at the French Open quickly turned from lightheartedness to grief.
After making up for a recent loss to Grigor Dimitrov by beating him 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the fourth round, the top-ranked Djokovic amazed the centre-court crowd by speaking to them in decent French.
The charm offensive reached its peak when Djokovic pledged to open a Serbian restaurant in Paris one day, drawing a roar of appreciation that could probably be heard all around the Roland Garros precinct.
Minutes later, his mood was quite different.
When Djokovic returned to the locker room, his team delivered the news that his first coach, Jelena Gencic, had died in Belgrade, Serbia, at the age of 76. She coached him for about five years, starting when Djokovic was six.
It was the second time in a little more than a year that Djokovic had been hit by a personal loss during a tournament.
At the Monte Carlo Masters in April last year, he learned of his grandfather's death and decided to keep playing, winning his third-round match just hours later. He reached the final.
On Saturday, Djokovic was too distraught to attend a post-match news conference.
"His team kept the news secret from him until after the match," Association of Tennis Professionals' official Nicola Arzani said. "He just broke down. He was very, very, very close to her." Djokovic is scheduled to play his fourth-round match against 16th-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany today, when seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal hopes to celebrate his 27th birthday with a win against 13th-seeded Kei Nishikori.
Nadal overcame another sloppy start to move past 27th-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 6-4.
After dropping the opening set in his first two matches, he trailed 4-2, was down a break at 6-5, and looked relieved to win the tiebreaker, which was even at 4-4.
"I really need to play better," Nadal said. "Otherwise I can go back to Mallorca and go fishing. I played too short, and with mistakes."
The Spaniard is looking to become the first man to win eight titles at the same grand-slam tournament. He improved to 55-1 at Roland Garros despite committing 40 unforced errors and facing 11 break points.
Fognini showed off his array of spectacular shots, nearly doubling Nadal's total of winners. But the Italian let himself down just as much with some sloppy shots, making 59 unforced errors.
Fognini's eccentricity was perfectly summed up in the second game of the second set. After missing an easy forehand at the net, he tossed his racquet in the air and tried to kick it with his foot, like a soccer player would. He missed.