By Toby Davis
PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic could only applaud as his fourth-round opponent Andreas Seppi walked away defeated from a punishing five-set encounter the Serb sought to explain away as nothing more than a bad day at the office.
The world number one completed a remarkable escape act on Sunday to move into the French Open quarter-finals, hauling himself back from two sets down to beat the unfancied Italian 4-6 6-7 6-3 7-5 6-3 after more than four hours of tennis.
It was not one for Djokovic's scrap book. Under a leaden Parisian sky, he looked down and out as he racked up a catalogue of unforced errors to fall towards the precipice of an early exit.
The fact that he eventually clawed his way back from the brink is testament to his iron will, but it will do nothing to convince those who believe Rafa Nadal will clinch a record seventh French Open title this year to change their minds.
The Mallorcan scrapper has made just 51 unforced errors in his three opening encounters, all won in straight sets, while Djokovic totted up 76 in this match alone.
"I think it was just a bad day for my game and for my rhythm in general," Djokovic told reporters.
"But, look, I won. So I don't need to be disappointed... I'm in the quarter-finals.
"That's what happens in sports. You have good days; you have bad days."
The conditions certainly played their part as Djokovic struggled to generate any fizz off either flank in the heavy, damp air that circled Philippe Chatrier court.
But as the Serb rightly pointed out, the conditions were the same for both players, yet it was Djokovic who suffered the most.
A series of failed drop shots and forehands that flew beyond the baseline were combined with a lethargic approach that saw him broken twice in the first set and once in the second.
To his credit, Djokovic, who had in the past cultivated a reputation for fiery outbursts, remained stoically calm when the match appeared to be drifting away from him.
"At the start of my career, I don't know if I would be actually able to get out of this position," he added.
"But now is different because of the years of experience I have playing on the big stage and in big matches."
There were only flashes of brilliance on display from Djokovic who raised his arms skywards in celebration after wearing down his opponent in four hours 18 minutes. The subsequent round of applause was appreciated.
"It was a nice gesture on his part, without doubt, after such a game," Seppi told reporters.
"Certainly these are gestures to be appreciated; you don't see them every day."
Djokovic will play the winner of Stanislas Wawrinka's fourth-round clash with fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Alison Wildey)