French Open: Djokovic grief as first coach dies

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Novak Djokovic moved into the fourth round of the French Open yesterday but then suffered the emotional blow of learning that the coach who nurtured his fledgling career had died.

The Serb beat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, but discovered only after the match that Jelena Gencic, his first coach and the person who first recognised his exceptional talent, had died in Belgrade on Saturday aged 77.

The world No.1 broke down in the locker room after the match, according to a spokesman, and cancelled his post-match media commitments.

Gencic noticed Djokovic when she ran a tennis camp when he was six years old and coached him for five years.

Djokovic’s team had kept the news of her death a secret and even the post-match courtside interviewer was instructed not to mention it.

The Serb, pictured, had come through his match against Dimitrov untroubled. The only concern hanging his emphatic display was an injury timeout in the third set when the trainer was called on court to massage a problem with his shoulder. The Serb, chasing the only grand slam missing from his collection, capitalised on a string of Dimitrov errors and will now face German Philipp Kohlschreiber who beat Romania’s Victor Hanescu.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal was a straight-sets winner at last, but there was nothing straightforward about his third-
round victory over Fabio Fognini yesterday.

The seven-times champion has struggled for anything like his best form at Roland Garros, having gone into the tournament with six titles from eight events this season, and he battled for two hours and 45 minutes for a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 6-4 win.

Nadal complained bitterly on Friday about the schedule after his second-round match was delayed, and he will be very happy to have a day off before a fourth-round meeting with Kei Nishikori tomorrow.

After dropping the opening set against both Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan, Nadal twice found himself a break down to Fognini, a flashy Italian who mixes blistering winners with baffling mistakes.

Nishikori became the first Japanese man to reach the fourth round here for 75 years with a four-set win over France’s Benoit Paire earlier.