French Open: Novak Djokovic beats Juan Martin del Potro

Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro
Djokovic and Del Potro exchange thoughts after their two-day battle

Novak Djokovic finished strongly to beat Juan Martin del Potro in their third-round French Open tie, taking his unbeaten run to 42 matches.

After recovering to one-set all on Friday, Del Potro looked set to rock the world number two with two break points for a 3-2 lead in the third set.

But Djokovic held his serve and powered on to win 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-2 to set up a meeting with Richard Gasquet.

World number one Rafael Nadal eased past Croatian Antonio Veic 6-1 6-3 6-0.

Despite stuttering at times in the opening two rounds, there were few problems for the Spaniard, who celebrates his 25th birthday on 3 June.

Nadal crushed the qualifier in the first set in 26 minutes, before an erratic first serve blighted his efforts as Veic hit back with two breaks.

However, the Mallorcan's dominance swiftly returned, and having eventually secured the second set, the nine-time Grand Slam winner surged over the finish line to grab his last-16 place in 101 minutes.

Nadal will face Ivan Ljubicic or Fernando Verdasco next as he continues his quest to join Bjorn Borg on a record-equalling six French Open wins.

Following the drama of , the lively crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen had another record to discuss as Djokovic's 41-match winning streak, stretching back to last November, hung in the balance against Del Potro.

The 24-year-old Serb needed just one more win to equal John McEnroe's run of 42. Ivan Lendl secured a sequence of 44 in 1981-1982, with Guillermo Vilas topping the list with an unbeaten record of 46 matches in 1977.

Djokovic edged a tight first set, but by the time play was halted at 9.12pm local time in Paris on Friday night, his Argentine opponent, seeded 25 because of his injury lay-off, was level and would have felt confident of a shock when play resumed.

And after the pair had shared the opening four games with their trademark booming baseline returns in full-flow, Del Potro appeared to be in the driving seat, possessing two break points to leave Djokovic looking a little rattled.

But the two-time semi-finalist at Roland Garros had other ideas and after coming through a crushing rally to save the second break point, a thunderous ace soon followed to save the hold and sneak ahead 3-2.

It turned out to be a crucial service game and as the errors of the 2009 US Open champion mounted, Djokovic quickly wrapped up the third set to settle the nerves of his noisy supporters.

Djokovic's power was relentless in set four with a double break making it 4-1, and despite an incredible dropshot-winner by the Argentine to break back, the victory soon arrived to keep the Serb dreaming of his first French Open crown and to ensure the runs of Lendl and Vilas are firmly in his sights.

"I knew before the match he was going to be a difficult opponent to beat," Djokovic said.

"I went into the match a bit more nervous than usual and we both made a lot of unforced errors at the start. I think I was managing to control my game a little bit better today and I think that resulted in the win."

Del Potro admitted he had lost an opportunity to beat his good friend, but believes Djokovic deserves to overtake Nadal as world number one.

"I had my chance in the third set, two-all, two break points, and I miss it. Against this player, if you don't take your chance, you lose," said the Argentine.

"He is doing everything perfect. He has very good movement, he's very fast, he's improved his serve and he's beating all the players very easily. I'm one more victim of his game. I'm pleased for him. Hopefully he's ready to be number one very soon."

Fifth seed Robin Soderling, the runner-up for the last two years, made impressive progress as he demolished Argentine qualifier Leonardo Mayer 6-1 6-4 6-3.

And Gilles Simon became the third Frenchman to get through to the last 16 with a convincing 6-3 6-4 6-2 win over the last remaining American, Mardy Fish.

But Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, the 16th seed, went out, beaten 6-3 7-6(6) 6-4 by Croat Ivan Ljubicic.

Andy Murray's next opponent Victor Troicki progressed after overcoming 21st seed Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-4, while Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela defeated Lukas Rosol 6-2 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-5).

Colombian Alejandro Falla, who won three matches in qualifying to reach the main draw, continued his impressive run with a 6-7(4) 6-4 7-5 6-4 win over Poland's Lukasz Kubot.

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