PARIS: Novak Djokovic will bid to reach the French Open fourth round for a 14th consecutive year on Friday, after women's third seed Jessica Pegula was dumped out of the tournament by Elise Mertens.
Djokovic has made headlines for his comments about Kosovo this week but will be hoping his progress on Court Philippe Chatrier remains serene after two straight-sets wins so far.
He said after his second-round win over Marton Fucsovics that the message "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia" he scrawled on a camera following his opening match was "something I stand for".
His next opponent, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, will likely provide a sterner test, though. The Spaniard has slipped to number 34 in the world rankings this season but was runner-up at the clay-court Monte Carlo Masters last year.
Two-time champion Djokovic, who has reached the French Open quarter-finals in each of the past 13 years, will be the red-hot favourite.
The 36-year-old is hoping to break out of his tie with injured rival Rafael Nadal at the top of the men's all-time list of major winners at Roland Garros.
He is just one title behind Serena Williams' mark of 23 Slams and two adrift of Margaret Court's overall record.
Djokovic has won two of his three matches with 29th seed Davidovich Fokina, but lost their last meeting in Monte Carlo 12 months ago.
World number one Carlos Alcaraz, considered the favourite and slated to meet Djokovic in the semi-finals, features in the night-session match against talented Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
The 20-year-old Spaniard has defeated players ranked outside the top 100 in his first two matches.
Shapovalov is of a far higher calibre, though, despite struggling for form in recent months.
The Canadian was ranked in the top 10 less than two years ago and was a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2021.
Shapovalov is a big admirer of Alcaraz, who is bidding for a second straight Slam title after winning the 2022 US Open and missing this year's Australian Open with injury.
"I think he's a great guy. He's super humble for achieving what he has at such a young age," said the 24-year-old ahead of their night-session encounter.
"You can see how much he enjoys being on the court."
Pegula dumped out
American Pegula's hopes of a deep run in Paris were ended in comprehensive fashion by Belgian Elise Mertens.
The 28th seed cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 victory to reach the fourth round for the third time.
World number three Pegula, who only has two WTA Tour titles to her name, has still never passed the quarter-final stage of a Grand Slam tournament.
"I'm very happy to win in two sets. She's a very good player," said Mertens.
The former Australian Open semi-finalist will next face the winner of an all-Russian tie between Anastasia Potapova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Russian Daria Kasatkina, a semi-finalist last year, raced into the second week by thrashing American Peyton Stearns 6-0, 6-1 in under an hour.
The ninth seed will face either compatriot Anna Blinkova or Elina Svitolina on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals.
Ukrainian Svitolina has reached the third round on her first Grand Slam appearance since the 2022 Australian Open.
She is now on a seven-match winning run after also winning the title in Strasbourg last week, beating Blinkova in the final.
Svitolina refused to shake her Russian opponent's hand after that match and will likely repeat that stance on Friday.