Paris: His 43rd consecutive victory complete, Novak Djokovic ripped off his white baseball cap, pivoted to look up at his parents, coach and other supporters in the stands, then let out a yell.
It was the sort of visceral reaction one might expect at the conclusion of a taut, tense contest, not the rather routine 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 result the second-seeded Djokovic assembled on Sunday at the expense of No. 13 Richard Gasquet in the fourth round of the French Open.
"I didn't expect it to be easy, that's for sure," said Djokovic, who briefly addressed the crowd in French, drawing laughter and cheers. "May be the scoreline says differently, but I really ... had to work."
Each match carries extra meaning these days for Djokovic, whose winning streak began with two Davis Cup victories in December and is the third longest since the Open era began in 1968. Now 41-0 in 2011, the Serb is one win shy of John McEnroe's mark of 42-0 in 1984.
"As soon as he hits a return, he grabs you by the throat," said Gasquet, a former top-10 player and 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist who was supported by a partisan crowd Sunday. "To beat him, you need to produce the perfect match and not make any mistakes."
Djokovic meets 49th-ranked Fabio Fognini of Italy, who set aside a left thigh injury that left him immobile and erased five match points to beat Albert Montanes of Spain 11-9 in the fifth set.
"I have to be honest. I didn't think I could win the match," Fognini said. "I couldn't move. I couldn't serve."
Against Djokovic, the Italian will be facing one of the three men that have combined for 23 of the past 24 Grand Slam titles.
Djokovic's contribution to that total came at the 2008 and 2011 Australian Opens. He's long been known for his sublime two-handed backhand, service returns and movement on court. Lately, he's improved his serve and fitness (the last thanks to a gluten-free diet he refuses to discuss in any detail).
He's only lost serve twice through four matches at Roland Garros, and against Gasquet saved all three break points. Djokovic also broke Gasquet four times and hit more than twice as many winners, 34-16.
"He plays fast. He hits the ball really early. His return is colossal," Gasquet said. "He's got no weakness."
Prodded at his news conference to name an aspect of his game he'd like to improve for the tournament's second week, Djokovic said he's pleased with his current level and hopes to be able to maintain it.