Tennis-Djokovic canters into French Open round two as Stephens lays down marker

  • Tennis
  • Monday, 29 May 2023

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - May 29, 2023 Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his first round match against Aleksandar Kovacevic of the U.S. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic launched his quest for a record-breaking 23rd men's Grand Slam singles title with a no-nonsense 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-1) first-round victory over debutant Aleksandar Kovacevic at the French Open on Monday.

The twice Roland Garros champion breezed through the first two sets before encountering resistance from the 24-year-old American whose lack of experience then showed in the tiebreak on the world's biggest clay court.

Djokovic ended the contest with a sizzling service return on his first match point and will face Hungarian journeyman Marton Fucsovics for a place in the third round.

"It's always a pleasure to come back here, one of the best tournaments in the world," said Djokovic, who made his Roland Garros debut in 2005.

"I'm very motivated to go far here, all the way I hope."

Djokovic did not have an ideal build-up to the claycourt Grand Slam, missing the Madrid Masters and being eliminated in the last eight in Rome, but he looked in good form in wind conditions.

On court Suzanne Lenglen, Benoit Paire kept his cool but could not avoid yet another defeat in the main Tour when he was beaten in five sets by British 14th seed Cameron Norrie.

Paire, given a wildcard, was up a break in the decider but could not close out the match.

"I'm happy with all the efforts that I've been making for some time. So today it was a great match," said world number 149 Paire, who has not won in the main draw in a top tier event since August.

In the women's draw, two former runners-up made quite an impression.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrated her return to Roland Garros with a dominant win over Czech Linda Fruhvirtova after fearing for her career a year ago due to a knee problem.

The 31-year-old enjoyed her best run at a Grand Slam in the 2021 tournament when she reached he final, and skipped last year's edition as well as the second half of the season to nurse an injury.

Sloane Stephens, runner-up at Roland Garros in 2018, dismantled former world number one Karolina Pliskova 6-0 6-4.

Although everything went smoothly on court for the American, she said racist abuse of players had got worse.

"Yes, it's obviously been a problem my entire career," said Stephens, who is Black. "It has never stopped. If anything, it's only gotten worse."

(Additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar and Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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