After a quarter-final defeat by Dominic Thiem last year, Djokovic returned to Roland Garros not expected to challenge for the title following a year disrupted by an injury which needed surgery after the Australian Open in January.
A lack of action since has resulted in him dropping to 22nd in the world rankings – below Bautista Agut.
But his greater pedigree eventually shone through in a physical encounter on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
The former world number one has now made the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the 43rd time, tying with Jimmy Connors on the all-time list.
Djokovic’s history with the French Open has been a varied one, having suffered three final defeats in 2012, 2014 and 2015 before eventually landing the prize in 2016 – finally sealing his career Grand Slam with victory over Andy Murray.
And he again experienced a range of emotions – delight, disappointment, anger – at Roland Garros in an epic match which ended with two weary players smiling as they hugged at the net.