- Ravi Ubha, Tennis
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PARIS -- Rarely during his unblemished sprint has Novak Djokovic had so much to contend with.
On Sunday at the French Open, he faced a supremely gifted, rejuvenated player in his own backyard, at a Grand Slam and in one of the biggest tennis stadiums in the world. Further, a nation had payback on its mind.
But Djokovic is overcoming everything at the moment.
So it continued.
Like a soccer giant that scores early on the road to tame an expectant crowd, Djokovic seized the initiative in the opening stages and never looked back against Richard Gasquet, cruising to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory to make it 43 wins in a row.
"He grabs you by the throat," Gasquet told reporters.
He took sole possession of the third spot in men's winning streaks in the Open era, would tie ironman Ivan Lendl for second if he tops Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals and would draw level with Guillermo Vilas atop the leaderboard by winning the title Sunday.
There's little to suggest he won't get there.
Never before had Gasquet played so well at the French Open. The "Pamela" brouhaha behind him and armed with new coaches Riccardo Piatti and Sebastien Grosjean, he ascended to another level mentally. Facing Thomaz Bellucci on Friday, he pumped his fist like Rafa, uttered "allez" to get the crowd involved more than once and bamboozled the Brazilian with his variety. Court Suzanne Lenglen was heaving.
"I knew he's going to have big support of the crowd, so I needed to be focused even more," Djokovic said. "Even in the third set when I was up two breaks, I didn't want to relax, because I didn't want to give him opportunity to come back to the match. I have done great."
The fans on Court Philippe Chatrier were immediately disheartened when Gasquet was broken in the opening game to set the tone. Similar to his titanic clash with Juan Martin del Potro in the third round, when the athletic, elastic Serb saved break points at a critical juncture, that was that.
France, which sagged when a Djokovic-inspired Serbia beat Les Bleus to win the Davis Cup in December, suffered further.
Djokovic cleaned up behind his first serve, dropping five points overall, and made only 15 unforced errors. He orchestrated three of the finest points in succession you'll ever see, at 3-1 in the third, to hurry the inevitable.
Gasquet threw his best stuff at Djokovic at 15-all, unleashing perhaps his hardest backhand of the day. The ball came back, and later, with a frazzled Gasquet eager to end the point quickly, he attempted a low-percentage smash that missed. On the next point, countering a lunging Gasquet drop half-volley, Djokovic slid perfectly into the ball and sent it cross-court.
Then on break point, Djokovic took a backhand early and ripped a pass past Gasquet down the line.
"There aren't that many people who can beat him today," Gasquet said. "You have to play excellent tennis to defeat him, because he pushes you so much around the court. It's always difficult."
Even if Fognini was fit, he'd be the overwhelming underdog in the last eight. Given he was banged up after toiling 4½ hours in his own fourth-round match with Albert Montanes, the Italian won't be the one to end the streak.
Less for Djokovic to deal with.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
A rejuvenated Frenchman playing on his home turf: You would have thought tough circumstances might blunt Novak Djokovic -- just a little.