World number one Novak Djokovic overcame early physical difficulties to defeat Pablo Carreno Busta and reach the semi-finals of the French Open.
The Serbian arrived on the field with tape on his neck, massaging his left muscles repeatedly on his way to losing the first set, but went on to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
The rematch was at the US Open in September where Djokovic was eliminated for striking a streak referee.
Djokovic faces the next Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“I certainly didn’t feel comfortable going into the stadium today,” Djokovic, 33, told a news conference.
“Some things happened in the warm-up period. I had to deal with those physical issues coming onto the field. As the match went on, I felt better, and I wasn’t in much pain.
“But, you know, I don’t want to throw anything off his good performance. Especially for a group and a half, he was the best player, and he was dictating the play.”
Djokovic of sorts for extended periods
It’s only 31 days since the duo met in the fourth round of the US Open and disqualified the Serbian after he made an angry pass on the ball and mistakenly sent it down a judge’s throat.
This time the focus wasn’t on tennis either.
There were times in the first set when Djokovic appeared ready to give up – one time he signaled his team with a sign across his throat indicating that he had finished the match and was clearly uncomfortable.
Between the two points, he would hit himself on the top of his arm, extend his arms or hit his thighs with a club, and would receive visits from the attending physician upon switching.
Carino Busta took full advantage, breaking twice to win the first set as Djokovic looked increasingly depressed.
After more fitness, a heavy drink was sent from his team and some appointments, Djokovic’s level improved as he got the second set in an effective manner.
He said, “I didn’t have a lot of energy really going on in my leg or movement. It took me about half a full time to really relax and start playing the way I should be doing.”
“I was having some neck problems and some shoulder problems. I’ll just say that. I mean, I don’t want to go too deep into it. Obviously I’m still in the tournament, so I don’t want that to reveal too much.”
Djokovic looked as if he would run away with the third goal when he led 3-0 but left the 17th seed again when his first serve slipped again and dirty mistakes crept in again, allowing Carino Busta to back down.
There were glimpses of brilliance from Djokovic, who had yet to drop a set and lost only 25 matches in four rounds, and gave a deafening roar as Carreno Busta slammed a long forehand to give a break that left the Serbian in the third set.
He sealed it with a header and went on to take a break in the seventh in the fourth inning, which was crucial.
Carino Busta Djokovic awarded the match point the Serbian turned around after a pretty final point as he worked his opponent across the field before unleashing an impressive forehand in dribbling.
The victory places him in the semifinals for the tenth time at Roland Garros and the last Wednesday of a Grand Slam for the 38th time.
It also keeps Djokovic on his way to a spectacular final against 12-time champion Rafael Nadal, who is chasing his 20 Grand Slam title as the Serbian seeks to score 18.
Djokovic, the hero here in 2016, strives to become the first man in the open era to win all Grand Slams twice.