Gencic spotted Djokovic’s talent as a six-year-old in Serbia and remained an important person throughout his life. She died of a heart attack on Saturday, and Djokovic’s team kept the news from him until after he had beaten Grigor Dimitrov because they knew it would hit him hard.
The world No 1 spoke movingly and eloquently after beating Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4 in the fourth round yesterday.
Djokovic said: “We were very close throughout my whole life, and she taught me a lot of things that are part of me, part of my character today, and I have the nicest memories of her.
“She was 77 years old, and before she passed away two days ago, last week she was giving tennis lessons to kids. She’s one of the most incredible people I knew. I feel even more responsible to go all the way in this tournament. I want to do it for her, also.”
The French Open is the only grand slam title Djokovic has not yet won, and he survived his first real test yesterday, coming from a set down.
In the last eight Djokovic will meet Tommy Haas, who reached his first quarter-final at Roland Garros at the age of 35 with a thumping 6-1 6-1 6-3 victory over Mikhail Youzhny.
Rafael Nadal has been below par so far this tournament but chose his 27th birthday to show the form that has brought him seven French titles as he dispatched Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-4 6-1 6-3 before a giant birthday cake was brought out onto court.
Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet put on an epic show, with a combined 149 winners hit before Swiss Wawrinka eventually came through 6-7 (5/7) 4-6 6-4 7-5 8-6 in four hours and 16 minutes.
In the women’s, defending champion Maria Sharapova saw off American Sloane Stephens 6-4 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals where she will meet to set either Jelena Jankovic or Jamie Hampton. Victoria Azarenka beat Francesca Schiavone 6-3 6-0 to reach the quarter-finals. Maria Kirilenko will take on Azarenka in the last eight after ending the run of Mattek-Sands with a 7-5 6-4 victory.