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June 3, 2013

Djokovic rallies past Kohlschreiber at French Open

— PARIS (AP) — In the first set, Novak Djokovic angrily busted his racket. At the end, he happily threw a punch at the red clay he's so eager to conquer.

Mostly he tried to keep his emotions in check Monday at the French Open while grieving the death of his childhood coach.

Djokovic lost a set for the first time in the tournament, then rallied to reach his 16th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal also advanced, celebrating his 27th birthday by beating Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-1, 6-3. Afterward the center court crowd serenaded Nadal with "Joyeux Anniversaire" — "Happy Birthday" — and he was presented with an enormous cake.

Djokovic's celebration was more tempered. He played for the first time since learning that his first coach, Jelena Gencic, had died in Belgrade at age 76.

She mentored him for about five years, starting when he was 6.

"I feel even more responsible now to go all the way in this tournament," he said. "I want to do it for her, also, because she was a very special person in my life."

He recalled his grandfather's death, when Djokovic was in the midst of a tournament and went on to lose in the final.

"The experience that I had with my grandfather's passing away last year helped me a little bit to kind of stay tough this time," he said, "because it took me a long time last year to recover. It was very emotional.

"I'm handling it better. I'm trying to focus my thoughts on the nicest memories."

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic will next play 35-year-old Tommy Haas, who became the oldest French Open men's quarterfinalist since 1971 by beating Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. Haas is also the oldest man to reach the quarters at any major event since Andre Agassi at the 2005 U.S. Open.

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