Djokovic Secures 200th Clay-Court Win, Blasts Into QF

Serbian sets quarter-final meeting with Italy's Marco Cecchinato

It was a milestone day for Novak Djokovic in Paris. The Serbian defeated Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the Roland Garros fourth round on Sunday, claiming a few slices of history with the victory. 

Entering the fortnight in Paris, only two men had appeared in a Grand Slam quarter-final on 40 occasions. Until now.

Djokovic joined Roger Federer (52) and Jimmy Connors (41) in the exclusive club, as the 2016 champion fired 21 winners and converted on five of 10 break chances to etch his name in the record books.

In addition, the Serbian reached the last eight at Roland Garros for the ninth straight time, equaling Federer’s Open Era record for most consecutive quarter-final appearances on the terre battue. The Swiss achieved the feat from 2005-13.

And Djokovic didn't stop there. The Belgrade native joined yet another exclusive club with Sunday's win, scoring his 200th clay-court match win at the tour-level. He is the sixth active player to achieve the feat, joining Nadal, Federer, Verdasco, David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo.

"I'm just taking it one match at a time, and right now, considering I played almost four hours in my last match, I felt pretty good physically today," said Djokovic. "I had no problems to go the distance in long rallies and I won in the three sets against a player who is in form, especially for this surface. So that's all positives for now."

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Behind a dogged defensive display, Djokovic was at his best as the match progressed on Court Philippe-Chatrier. An elastic wall at the back of the court, he refused to give Verdasco any openings to gain momentum and find his rhythm. 

It was a slow start for both competitors on serve, with the first four games lasting more than 30 minutes combined. The scoreboard read 'deuce' a staggering 17 times in that span, as both players made a hard charge for an initial break.

But, using his backhand to break down Verdasco's vaunted forehand, Djokovic found his range. After snatching the first set 6-3, he grabbed a quick break to open the second. And after Verdasco drew level in the sixth game, the Serbian broke right back to love. 

An immediate break to kick off the third set proved decisive, as Verdasco was unable to overcome from a foot blister that compromised his movement. He would eventually succumb after two hours and 25 minutes.

"Very physical, very long games, a lot of exchanges," Djokovic said about the match. "He came out on the court with a lot of self-belief, and he started off pretty well and made me work very hard. I think being able to win the first set and get ahead was crucial. I made that break for 3-1, and then after that I held my serve. That helped, obviously, because I knew that if we go the distance, I think I have pretty good chance against him.

"He's such a talented player. He's got weapons everywhere. Serve, forehand, everything. He loves playing on clay. Beat Dimitrov in three sets last round. He was in good form. I think in the most important moments today, I just managed to play an extra shot in the court and just made him run and just made him uncomfortable. I think from that point of view I did very well. I was very happy with the overall performance, especially in the third set."

Djokovic has not lost to Verdasco in more than eight years, since falling at the 2010 Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. He has since reeled off six straight victories, including three at the Grand Slam level. In total, Djokovic owns a 11-4 edge in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

In reaching his 12th Roland Garros quarter-final, Djokovic momentarily owns the record for most trips to the last eight in Paris. Rafael Nadal will bid to join him on Monday, when the Spaniard faces Maximilian Marterer.

Verdasco, meanwhile, was bidding to reach the quarter-finals at Roland Garros for the first time. Earlier in the tournament, he secured his 100th Grand Slam match win with a five-set first-round victory over Yoshihito Nishioka.

Runner-up at the ATP World Tour 500 event in Rio de Janeiro in February, the World No. 35 is pushing towards a Top 30 return at the age of 34.

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Djokovic is the 50th player in the Open Era to win 200 tour-level matches on clay. His first clay-court win came nearly 14 years ago in Bucharest in 2004, defeating Arnaud Clement.

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