Paris, May 29 (IANS) Former Champion Novak Djokovic started his campaign to capture a record 23rd Grand Slam title and the World No.1 ranking with a comprehensive win in the men's singles first round at the French Open here on Monday.
Two-time French Open champion Djokovic, who also has a chance of becoming the first man in the history of Open Era tennis to achieve the triple career Grand Slam, dispatched Aleksandar Kovacevic 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(1) in the first round on Court Philippe Chatrier at the Roland Garros here.
However, things were quite difficult for Canadian Denis Shapovalov and British star Cameron Norrie as they were both taken the distance before emerging unscathed from the first round.
Italian world No.130 Fabio Fognini knocked out No.10 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the second round for the 12th time in his career.
Playing against the legend Djokovic, Kovacevic made a confident start to his Grand Slam main draw debut, but he was unable to hold his illustrious opponent back after Djokovic claimed the first break of the match in the sixth game.
Despite a third-set turnaround in which the American rallied from 3-5 to force a tie-break, Djokovic held firm to complete a first-round win in which he converted five of his 12 break points and struck 41 winners to Kovacevic's 25.
The World No. 114 Kovacevic, who idolised Djokovic as a child and posed for a picture with the Serbian as a seven-year-old at the 2005 US Open, showed flashes of his best level throughout the two-hour, 26-minute encounter. Yet he was unable to match the consistency of Djokovic from the baseline and had no answer to the third seed's razor-sharp returns.
Despite an uncharacteristic lapse from Djokovic in the third set, the World No. 3 maintained a high level of play throughout his victory. He struck his groundstrokes cleanly off both wings and won 82 per cent (37/45) of points behind his first serve in the match.
By winning the title here, Djokovic can move ahead of Rafael Nadal in the Grand Slam titles race with his second major triumph of the season in Paris (he also triumphed at January's Australian Open). His next challenge in the French capital is a second-round clash with World No. 83 Marton Fucsovics.
A third victory in Paris would also secure a return to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings for Djokovic, who was usurped from the top spot by Carlos Alcaraz three weeks ago. The 36-year-old now has 86 match wins at Roland Garros, second only to Nadal's 112.
Meanwhile, the British lefty Norrie earned a dramatic first-round win on Monday at Roland Garros, where he clawed past Frenchman Benoit Paire in a five-set thriller. He fought hard throughout the three-hour, 36-minute clash, triumphing 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
The 14th seed showed great agility to handle Paire's court craft and he rallied from 2-4 in the fifth set, demonstrating his high fitness levels to defeat former World No. 18 Paire, who was backed by vocal home support on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.
"It was an amazing match and all credit to Benoit, he played really well," Norrie was quoted as saying by the ATP website. "It is nice to see him back competing really hard. It was a great atmosphere. Thank you for the support for both of us, it was amazing. I was fortunate for it to go my way in the fifth set, but I am pleased to be through after a really tough one."
The Canadian Shapovalov overcame 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Brandon Nakashima 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the second round in Paris for the third time. The 24-year-old, seeded 26, is aiming to find his best form at the clay-court event, having not won consecutive tour-level matches since the Australian Open in January. He will next play Italian Matteo Arnaldi.
The Argentine Schwartzman fought back from two sets down to defeat Bernabe Zapata Miralles 1-6, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0, 6-4. With his victory, the 2020 semi-finalist snapped a four-match losing streak. The 30-year-old will meet Nuno Borges in the second round.
The 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka narrowly avoided a second consecutive first-round exit at the clay-court major when he battled past Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-7(2), 1-6, 6-4 on Monday. The Swiss needed four hours and 35 minutes to take an 8-0 ATP head-t0-head series lead against the lefty.
It was the 38-year-old's 30th five-set victory (30-25). According to ATP Stats, the only active players with more five-set wins are Novak Djokovic (37-10) and Marin Cilic (34-20).
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