Djokovic, Nadal look shaky, but advancePARIS - For the third time in three matches this year in the French Open, Rafael Nadal hardly looked himself for a set.
Unlike in the first two rounds, the 26-year-old Spaniard won his opening set Saturday, albeit barely.
The takeaway, even after another victory, was the same: The owner of a record seven titles at Roland Garros is not the dominant force he usually is at the clay-court tournament.
“If I want to have any chance,” Nadal acknowledged after beating 27th-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-4, “I really need to play better.”
Hours later, the man Nadal beat in last year’s final and could meet in this year’s semifinals, No. 1 Novak Djokovic, seemed vulnerable, too.
Walking to his changeover chair at 4-3 in the third set of a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win against No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov, Djokovic stretched his right arm - the one he has used to win six Grand Slam titles - several times.
He then was treated by a trainer, who applied ointment and gave Djokovic a massage near his shoulder.
Two games later, the match was done, Djokovic was into the fourth round, and he raised that arm in his typical victory celebration.
His mood would shift dramatically soon. When Djokovic left the court and went to the locker room, he was told that his first coach - Jelena Gencic, 76, who began working with little Nole when he was 6 - had died in Belgrade, Serbia, earlier Saturday.
Djokovic issued a statement through the tournament saying that he would not be able to attend a post-match news conference.
“His team kept the news secret from him until after the match,” ATP spokesman Nicola Arzani said. “He just broke down. .?.?. He was very, very, very close to her.”
As they approach each other in the draw, Nadal now meets No. 13 Kei Nishikori - the first Japanese man in the fourth round of the French Open in 75 years - while Djokovic faces No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber.
The other matchups on that half of the bracket after a wild Saturday in Paris: No. 12 Tommy Haas against No. 29 Mikhail Youzhny, and No. 7 Richard Gasquet against No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka.
Haas let a record 12 match points get away from him in the fourth set, then saved one in the fifth.
He eventually pulled out a 7-5, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-7 (10), 10-8 victory over 19th-seeded John Isner, the last American man in the field and the player best known for winning a 70-68 fifth set at Wimbledon three years ago.