PARIS – What was shaping up as a struggle for Novak Djokovic at the French Open suddenly turned into something of a stroll.
Tied at a set apiece with big-hitting 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro when play was suspended because of darkness a night earlier, Djokovic quickly faced two break points Saturday. He saved those, then broke del Potro in the next game, and that was pretty much that.
“If he serves well, he can beat anybody, really,” Djokovic said. “I went (into) the match a bit more nervous than usual.”
If that’s so, it didn’t really show. Djokovic completed a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the third round, pushing his 2011 record to 40-0 and stretching his winning streak to 42 matches overall, including two Davis Cup matches in December.
“He was much better than me,” said the 25th-seeded del Potro. “He has everything; everything perfect. He has very good movement. He’s very fast. He’s improved his serve. He’s beating all the players very, very easy, and I’m one more victim of his game.”
Djokovic’s 42-match run is tied for the third longest by a man in the Open era, which began in 1968; Guillermo Vilas won 46 in a row in 1977. Djokovic is off to the second-best start to a season, trailing only John McEnroe’s 42-0 in 1984.
Robin Soderling also reached the fourth round, as did three-time Grand Slam runner-up Andy Murray, No. 15 Viktor Troicki, No. 18 Gilles Simon, and unseeded Ivan Ljubicic, who eliminated No. 16 Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-4.
Twenty-eight of the 32 players still around in both fields are from Europe. That includes three Russian women who won Saturday: No. 7 Maria Sharapova, No. 25 Maria Kirilenko and unseeded Ekaterina Makarova.
Also advancing: No. 4 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, No. 6 Li Na of China, No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, and No. 15 Andrea Petkovic of Germany.