MONACO (AP) — Novak Djokovic and defending champion Rafael Nadal needed a combined 14 match points to reach the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Wednesday.
After Djokovic finally converted his 10th match point to beat Borna Coric 7-6 (2) 7-5, Nadal required four in a 6-1, 6-3 win against Aljaz Bedene 6-1, 6-3.
Djokovic first missed two match points with Coric serving at 5-3, then wasted another seven in a marathon game when serving for the match. The ninth-seeded Serb took a 40-0 lead in that game, but then hit one backhand long, another backhand wide, before an unforced error into the net.
At deuce, Coric successfully overturned a call to get a break point but Djokovic saved it with an ace. Djokovic won the next point to set up match point No. 6, but again hit a backhand wide.
An ace gave him a seventh chance, but Coric saved that one after Djokovic failed to retrieve his drop shot. Another ace made it No. 8, but Djokovic’s tame forehand allowed Coric an easy forehand winner.
On try No. 9, a poor backhand from Djokovic went into the net.
Coric finally broke to make it 5-5, but Djokovic broke straight back and the 10th match point did the trick with Coric sending a backhand long.
Djokovic hugged Coric at the net and then patted his opponent on the cheek.
“I could see him coming into the court really believing he can win the match. It was a real battle,” said Djokovic, who will next face fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria.
Hindered by a persistent right elbow injury, Djokovic says he is finally pain-free for the first time in two years — and a little rusty.
“I could have won the match earlier definitely, but it was great to deal with these kinds of emotions again,” the 12-time Grand Slam champion said. “I’m obviously lacking that match play.”
To take some pressure off his fragile elbow, Djokovic is using a lighter racket.
“I made some small minor changes that actually in our world are quite significant,” he said. “It feels like I gained more power, especially on the serve.”
Nadal had a much easier match but also struggled to put the finishing touches on his win.
Serving at 5-3 and 0-40, Bedene saved the Spaniard’s third match point with an audacious drop shot. But it was only a brief reprieve, because Nadal took his next chance when his Slovenian opponent whipped a forehand into the net.
Nadal, who saved two break points in the fifth game of the match, is chasing a record-extending 11th title here. The top-ranked Spaniard next faces big-serving Russian Karen Khachanov.
“He serves big and has big shots from the baseline,” said Nadal, who beat Khachanov in the third round at Wimbledon last year. “I have to play an aggressive tennis, high intensity. I need to make him feel that he needs to hit great shots for a long time.”
Djokovic has won the title twice, including when he ended Nadal’s 46-match winning streak by winning the 2013 title. They are on course to meet in the quarterfinals, but Djokovic isn’t getting ahead of himself.
Thiem beat Djokovic in straight sets in the French Open quarterfinals last year — including 6-0 in the third — but Djokovic won their other five meetings.
“He’s one of the top three players in the world on clay,” Djokovic said. “It’s disrespectful toward Dominic and Dominic’s tennis to think about and talk about a matchup with Nadal.”
Second-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia, the Australian Open runner-up, had seven aces in a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win against Fernando Verdasco.
In other matches, Kei Nishikori of Japan overcame an early break to beat Daniil Medvedev of Russia 7-5, 6-2.
Nishikori returned from injury in February, after a torn tendon in his right wrist ruled him out of last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open.
No. 11 Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 14 Milos Raonic, Andres Seppi, Jan-Lennard Struff, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Richard Gasquet also won.