'Very motivated': Novak Djokovic on his way to victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic in straight sets
Paris (AFP) - Novak Djokovic started his bid for a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles title with a straight-sets victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic in the French Open first round on Monday, as Carlos Alcaraz dazzled in his opening victory.
Two-time Roland Garros champion Djokovic held off a late rally from his American opponent on Court Philippe Chatrier to clinch a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7⁄1) victory.
He has still not lost in his opening match of a major since the 2006 Australian Open.
“I want to dominate whoever I play against regardless of the circumstances and who is across the net, but sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Djokovic after kicking off his 19th consecutive French Open campaign.
The 36-year-old will face Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who he has beaten four times in as many meetings, in the second round.
Djokovic is only seeded third at Roland Garros this year despite the absence of his great rival and 14-time winner Rafael Nadal through injury, behind world number one Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev.
He is tied with Nadal for most men’s Slam singles trophies and just one behind the 23 of Serena Williams. Margaret Court holds the all-time record of 24.
Kovacevic, the world number 114 playing in his first Grand Slam match, battled hard but could not put Djokovic under sustained pressure until it was too late.
Djokovic eased through the first two sets, before Kovacevic did break for the first time in the match to level the third set at 3-3, only to drop serve again immediately.
Djokovic uncharacteristically stumbled when serving for the match as Kovacevic forced a tie-break to the delight of the crowd.
But the world number three quickly regrouped, dominating the breaker before ending Kovacevic’s resistance on his first match point with a thumping forehand return.
- Brilliant Alcaraz -
Carlos Alcaraz overcame a late blip to cruise into the second round
Alcaraz began his attempt to win a second Grand Slam title in fine style against Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli, the world number 159 playing in a Grand Slam for the first time.
The top seed played some wonderful shots as he powered to a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 victory, despite also struggling to get over the line.
Spaniard Alcaraz is the favourite to win the title in the absence of his compatriot Nadal and is slated to meet Djokovic in the semi-finals.
The 20-year-old has enjoyed a fine clay-court season, winning the Madrid and Barcelona Opens, but did suffer a shock defeat to a player from outside the top 100 against Fabian Marozsan last time out in Rome.
There was no such slip-up on Court Suzanne Lenglen, though, as he won the first eight games of the match.
Cobolli settled and improved, even saving four match points in the third set and breaking Alcaraz when he first served for it, but eventually the sport’s new golden boy extended his record of never having lost in a Slam first round to nine appearances.
“It was not too good (the missed match points)… But I had to overcome that and forget that,” said the 20-year-old. “I played at a great level when it was 5-5 and 6-5.”
Alcaraz will next play Japan’s Taro Daniel.
- Auger-Aliassime beaten -
Shock win: Fabio Fognini celebrates his surprise straight-sets victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime
Canadian 10th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime suffered a third defeat at the opening hurdle in four visits to Roland Garros as he lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to Fabio Fognini.
The unpredictable Italian, who himself has lost in the first round six times in nine tournaments so far this season, pulled off a shock win on Court Simonne Mathieu.
British 14th seed Cameron Norrie came through a five-set thriller on Court Suzanne Lenglen to beat home wildcard Benoit Paire 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist will take on resurgent Frenchman Lucas Pouille for a third-round berth.
Former champion Stan Wawrinka, 38, out-fought Albert Ramos-Vinolas over four hours and 35 minutes, winning 7-6 (7⁄5), 6-4, 6-7 (2⁄7), 1-6, 6-4 to set up a clash with Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Zhang Zhizhen became the first Chinese man to win a main-draw match at the tournament since 1937 when his opponent Dusan Lajovic retired injured while trailing 6-1, 4-1.
Elina Svitolina extended her winning streak to six matches
In the women’s draw, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina won her first match at a Slam event since the 2022 Australian Open, beating last year’s semi-finalist Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-2.
The former world number three has recently returned to the tour following maternity leave, having previously taken a break from the sport citing health problems and mental exhaustion following Russia’s invasion of her home country.
“These kind of moments, these little wins… on a level, which is very low, but these moments bring joy to people of Ukraine,” said Svitolina.
French fifth seed Caroline Garica gave the home fans something to cheer with a 7-6 (7⁄4), 4-6, 6-4 win over Wang Xiyu.
Former runner-up Sloane Stephens dumped out 16th seed Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-4 and 2021 losing finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Linda Fruhvirtova 6-2, 6-2.