It was a taxing, four-hour marathon and featured an astonishing three match points for Djokovic before the world No. 1 finally put him away. Even when Roger Federer won the title a day later, Djokovic was given much of the credit.
Suddenly, his queasy history of mental and physical anxiety, all those questionable retirements, seemed erased.
Thus, the 22-year-old Serbian wafted into Roland Garros on a cloud of goodwill and high expectation. Djokovic, not Federer, many tennis experts believed, had the best chance to stop Nadal from winning his fifth straight French Open championship.
Clearly, Philipp Kohlschreiber did not get the memo.
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Many a pundit believed Novak Djokovic was the top contender to usurp Rafael Nadal in Paris.
The 25-year-old German defeated Djokovic on Saturday, ushering the No. 4 seed from the tournament with a third-round 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 decision that was as symmetrical as it was stunning. It was reminiscent of Djokovic's awkward second-round exit at last year's Wimbledon at the hands of Marat Safin.
"I can't really explain why," Djokovic said. "Physically I felt good, but it's just -- it's just a bad day at the office, how they say it.
"What can you do? This is sport."
Kohlschreiber, for his part, still seemed amazed 30 minutes later.
"I did, yeah, actually, a really good job today," he said. "I played really, really one of the best matches I ever play in a big tournament.
"Maybe Novak didn't play his best today. But from my point of view, I played good matches. I was a lot of times controlling or dictating many, many points."
The only real drama in the match came in the second set, when it appeared Kohlschreiber was thinking about giving away a 5-1 lead. Djokovic won three consecutive games, producing some terrific, sliding gets, but the German served solidly to hold.
Djokovic, who reached the semifinals here the past two years, had seemed poised to make a breakthrough; many had already anticipated a Djokovic-Federer semifinal. And so, the mystery of Djokovic deepens.
"I've played a lot, so mentally I'm a little bit exhausted, yes," Djokovic said. "But still, that's not an explanation for my loss today. That's not excuse, for sure.
"I mean, it's a Grand Slam. Look, you know, I'm one of the favorites to get far in the tournament. This cannot happen. Of course, it's all my fault, and I accept the responsibility."
Kohlschreiber, a brilliant shot-maker, matched his best Grand Slam effort ever, going back to round of 16 appearances at the Australian Open in 2005 and 2008.
If you predicted that Andy Roddick -- not Djokovic -- would still be playing in the second week at Paris, you're probably in the wrong business.
Five things we learned on Day 7
1. Juan Martin Del Potro is (officially) no longer under the radar: You read it here first. The No. 5 seed -- his is the sad face outside in the freezing cold, looking through the window into the warm fire of the Big Four -- has won all nine of his sets in convincing fashion.
So who is the favorite?
"The local player," Del Potro said.
2. Victoria Azarenka can play on any surface: She's still only 19 years old, but the Belarusian-turned-Arizonan showed some real composure, finishing off clay-court wizard Carla Suarez-Navarro after their match was suspended on Friday. Azarenka took the final frame 6-2.
Although her game seems to play better on hard courts -- she won over a stellar field in Miami -- she is through to the fourth round at Roland Garros for the second consecutive year. We'll see if she's ready to take the next step, since she's playing defending champion Ana Ivanovic.
3. Like Serena, Maria has a flair for the dramatic: All three of Maria Sharapova's matches have gone the distance. That's a total of more than 6½ hours.
"I think it's a lot better than playing six and a half and going somewhere else tomorrow," she said. "I think I'm giving myself another chance to, you know, play again and play another match. That's the only thing I could ask for right now."
4. Bonnie D. Ford is feeling it: Author of the "Critic's choice" section of ESPN.com's The Latest Dirt, Ford sauntered across the press room at Philippe Chatrier, unholstered her hand and blew some would-be smoke from the barrel.
Yes, she's that hot, having now gone 4-for-4 on her daily picks, correctly predicting that Maria Sharapova, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Aravane Rezai and now Andy Roddick would triumph. Three were exact calls; she had the Rezai-Michelle Larcher De Brito match going three sets, but it was over in two -- but one of them was a tiebreaker.
5. Tennis Tweet of the day: Jim Courier, two-time French Open champion on Frenchman Gael Monfils, who will play Roddick in the fourth round: "I love watching Monfils play. Possibly best raw athlete tennis has ever had. French Tennis Federation tests all their athletes and from what I hear his numbers were the best they have had. My eyes tell me he's the purest athlete men's tennis has had to date."
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Don't ask, don't tell
"I don't know who we play next," Bryan said.
But when a reporter pulled out the men's doubles draw, Bryan suddenly extended his right arm, looked away and, sounding alarmed, said, "The draw, the draw -- don't want to see the draw."
Mike and Bob Bryan won their second-round doubles match 6-1, 6-4 over Andrei Pavel and Horia Tecau, but with Bob playing mixed doubles with Liezel Huber, it was left to Mike to deal with three curious reporters.
Since the 1996 Australian Open, after a run-in with coach Jay Berger, the Bryans have made it a point to not look ahead to future matches.
"We were the best junior team and we were so cocky," Bryan said. "We're bad-mouthing teams, and in Australia we had an early exit and Jay sat us down and -- actually sent me home when I wanted to watch Bob [play mixed doubles].
"He taught us to respect our opponents."
The theory being, you can't trash-talk if you don't know who's coming next. How, in this world of instant information, do the Bryans keep themselves in the dark?
"Well," Bryan said, "I know we're at the bottom [of the draw]. We're seeded [No.] 2. We find out eventually. Guys tell us in the locker room. In the later rounds, with four teams left, you pretty much know.
"Early on, it's fun to figure it out just before. If you look too far ahead it stresses you out. [Coach Dave Macpherson] will probably tell us at dinner tonight, and we'll talk about the match a little bit."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Grand Slams are a process. A French Open champion will spend 24 hours or so on the court, but it is how he or she manages the other 14 days in Paris that ultimately determines success.
In his first four appearances here at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal -- under the constant scrutiny of his coach, uncle Toni Nadal -- has navigated the downtime and the off days flawlessly. This is not to say there are a few missteps off the path of routine.
Nadal's "maximum" time to go out to dinner is 9:30 p.m., but on Friday he broke that rule. After losing only five games to Lleyton Hewitt in a third-round match, Nadal felt there was more work to be done, so after his rounds with the press, he put in some time with his physio, Rafa Maymo.
By the time his 10-person entourage was ready to head out for a meal, it was 10 p.m.
"I remember an interview I did earlier in Rome this year," Nadal wrote in his Saturday blog for the Times of London. "A journalist asked me about the things that get me upset, and I said jokingly that my uncle Toni wants me to go earlier for dinner so I can come back to the hotel earlier to get more rest. Today Toni was with us and he didn't complain much for going so late."
Nadal reported that he had one of the best tuna steaks in his experience, but that he didn't complete his blog until nearly 1 a.m.
Exactly 11 hours later, he stepped onto Court 5 for a 90-minute practice session. With Uncle Toni watching with hands on hips from the doubles alley near the net and feeding balls, Rafa blasted a series of groundstrokes to opposite corners. Within 10 minutes, there were dark spots of sweat growing on his gray T-shirt.
Nadal has won each and every one of his 31 matches here. His 32nd features Robin Soderling of Sweden, who meets Nadal for the fourth time, their third encounter in a Grand Slam. It was Soderling who stretched Nadal to five sets (and more than four hours) two years ago at Wimbledon. More recently, however, Nadal crushed Soderling 6-1, 6-0 in Rome.
-- Greg Garber
The Russian has won 13 singles titles, fifth among active players, behind Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova. They, of course, have all hoisted at least two of the four major trophies.
On Saturday, Dementieva's 42nd consecutive major ended when she lost 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 to Samantha Stosur of Australia. Afterward, she was asked if it was one of her bigger disappointments in Paris.
"I had so many," Dementieva said.
Dementieva never seemed comfortable on the clay, and you get the idea that at the age of 27 her window is closing -- maybe it has already closed.
She came closest in 2004, when she advanced to the finals of the French Open and U.S. Open. In Paris, she lost to fellow Russian Anastasia Myskina, who won her first and only major. In New York, Dementieva lost to fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won her first and only major. There were also five runs to the semifinals.
When she won the Olympic gold medal last year in Beijing, she said it meant more to her than a Grand Slam. Now, she said, she is struggling to compete physically.
"I was not ready, you know, to play at the level that I want to play," Dementieva said. "I was trying to just, you know, be positive, fight for every match, and trying to improve match by match.
"But unfortunately, it's difficult to do. It's a very physical game when it comes to the clay courts, so it's not good for me. Just getting older, I guess."
-- Greg Garber
He hadn't won a match here since 2005, but Andy Roddick -- working against the reality that U.S. players bleed easily on the red clay at Roland Garros -- finds himself in the fourth round, which means he is one of the rare Americans to reach Week 2.
Robby Ginepri did it last year, but Roddick has a chance to become the first American man to reach the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi did it six years ago. Roddick thrashed France's Marc Gicquel 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
It won't be easy. Next up is Gael Monfils, a 22-year-old Frenchman who played the tournament of his life here last year with a run to the semifinals. Monfils dispatched Jurgen Melzer in four sets. The winner will likely get Roger Federer, a finalist here three years running.
Roddick lost about 15 pounds in the offseason, at the insistence of coach Larry Stefanki, in an attempt to facilitate better movement. This is particularly vital on clay and Roddick has looked increasingly comfortable in his first three matches.
"I feel like I'm moving a little bit better on this stuff," Roddick said. "I'm able to kind of slide into my forehand. I think that's just a comfort level. I feel like I can do that when I get matches under my belt on clay. When I come out and I haven't played a lot of matches, everything feels a little bit awkward."
After chilly, damp conditions in his second-round match, Roddick was blessed with sunshine, a steady breeze and temperatures in the 70s -- factors that all play into his big game.
"Yeah," observed Gicquel. "Conditions are very positive for him. The court can be very fast. That's good for him."
As they say in basketball, Monfils poses a matchup problem for Roddick.
"It's going to be difficult for him," Gicquel said. "But Roddick is going to have no pressure. He's going to play Gael, and Gael is a better specialist of clay court than him. He has a card to play."
Said Roddick, "The things that we've talked about this week as far as what the surface does to neutralize my game, I think I'll only get possibly more exposed with a guy like Monfils, who is very, very comfortable, to say the least. He obviously had a great run here last year.
"That being said, you know, I have a puncher's chance in every match I play. I can hold serve on any surface. If I can get into the tight points, I like my experience level, and I've dealt with these situations for a long time.
"So, you know, obviously it's from a matchup standpoint with Monfils, probably the last place I want to play him is a clay court. But that being said, I certainly go in with a shot."
-- Greg Garber
No. 3 Andy Murray vs. No. 13 Marin Cilic: Cilic is a streaky player who's moved through the draw so far without losing a set. Murray benefited from a retirement by tenacious Janko Tipsarevic in the third round, so both are rested. We think Murray might hit a stop sign here, although he won't make it easy for Cilic.
ESPN.com prediction: Cilic in five.
-- Bonnie D. Ford