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Tennis-Djokovic, Alcaraz on track for French Open showdown, Sabalenka snubs press again


By Shrivathsa Sridhar

PARIS (Reuters) -Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz inched closer to a blockbuster French Open semi-final showdown with imperious wins on Sunday as Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka skipped another press conference due to being asked to comment on the war in Ukraine earlier in the tournament.

Djokovic, who is chasing a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam to leapfrog Spaniard Rafa Nadal in the injured champion’s absence, blazed past Peruvian marathon man Juan Pablo Varillas 6-3 6-2 6-2 in a lopsided last-eight clash.

A two-time champion in Paris, Djokovic has now reached the quarters in Paris for a record 17th time, one more than Nadal.

“I’m proud of all the records but it also means I’m not young any more,” said the 36-year-old Djokovic. “It was the best level of tennis I have played here so I’m very satisfied.”

World number one and top seed Alcaraz, another tenacious Spaniard who is backed to take the mantle of 14-times champion Nadal, bulldozed his way to a 6-3 6-2 6-2 win over Italian Lorenzo Musetti.

World number two Sabalenka, who has been repeatedly urged by Ukrainian players to take a stand against the war, reached the quarter-finals by beating American Sloane Stephens 7-6(5) 6-4.

But she skipped her press conference for a second time having also done so on Friday citing mental health reasons and saying she did not feel safe after being grilled on what Russia calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Belarus has been a key staging area for the invasion.

Up next for Sabalenka is Elina Svitolina, who sealed a 6-4 7-6(5) victory over Russian ninth seed Daria Kasatkina to stay in contention for a maiden Grand Slam in her first major since the birth of her daughter Skai in October.


Earlier, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova dug deep to return to the quarter-finals for the first time since her runner-up finish two years ago before fellow Russian Karen Khachanov also fought his way through on a bright Sunday.

Pavlyuchenkova, who was defeated in the 2021 final by Czech Barbora Krejcikova, skipped last year’s edition as well as the second half of the season to nurse a knee problem and came into the match after three-setters in her last two encounters.

She was tested again by 28th seed Elise Mertens but rallied from a set and a break down to seal a 3-6 7-6(3) 6-3 victory in a little more than three hours.

Pavlyuchenkova, who has slipped to world number 333 after being forced to stop playing for five months last year, is the lowest-ranked French Open quarter-finalist in the Open Era.

Khachanov, the 11th seed, also showed plenty of resolve as he battled past Italian Lorenzo Sonego 1-6 6-4 7-6(7) 6-1 to reach the last eight for the second time.

“After the first set and a half, I was thinking, what am I doing here, he was hitting all over the place so I decided all I could do was fight,” said Khachanov, who has reached the semi-finals in his last two Grand Slams in New York and Melbourne.

There were dramatic scenes on Court 14 as Miyu Kato and Aldila Sutjiadi were disqualified from their women’s doubles third-round match after Kato struck a ball down the court between points and hit a ball girl to leave her sobbing.

Kato was initially warned by chair umpire Alexandre Juge but Czech Marie Bouzkova and Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, who were leading 7-6(1) 1-3 at the time of the incident, pointed out to him that the ball girl was crying.

“No, no, let me explain to you. She (Kato) didn’t do it on purpose, she (the ball girl) didn’t get injured,” Juge said.

“She (Kato) didn’t do it on purpose? She’s crying,” Sorribes Tormo said, pointing to the ball girl.

“And she has blood,” Bouzkova added.

After speaking to the girl, the umpire went back up to his chair and announced the end of the match by disqualifying Kato and Sutjiadi to spark boos from the crowd.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Paris; editing by Clare Fallon and Pritha Sarkar)

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