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Djokovic, Sabalenka advance at French Open with straight-set wins

Xinhua | Updated: 2024-05-29 10:21
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Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after winning his first round match against France's Pierre-Hugues Herbert during French Open at Roland Garros, Paris, France, May 28, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

PARIS - Novak Djokovic began his French Open title defense with a solid win on Tuesday, overcoming some slumps during his opening-round match against French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert to secure a 6-4, 6-7(7-3), 6-4 victory.

The Serbian star is aiming to become the first player in tennis history to claim 25 Grand Slam singles titles at Roland Garros, where he has lifted the trophy three times before.

"I don't want to get too excited," Djokovic said. "I thought it was a good performance for me. Solid. Of course, I could have done better, I think, on return games, but also credit to him for serving very well and changing things up."

Djokovic's 2024 results have fallen short of his usual high standards. For just the second season since he won his first ATP singles title in 2006, he arrived at Roland Garros without having reached a final at any level.

"I know what I'm capable of, and particularly in the Grand Slams I normally play my best tennis. I always aim to play my best tennis, and I have mostly been able to do that throughout my career, so that's the goal," Djokovic told the press before the tournament.

A rapid-fire first set went Djokovic's way in just 39 minutes, with stats that would certainly make him happy. He hit 11 winners to just two unforced errors and lost only three points on serve. But sets two and three became more complicated for the top seed, thanks in equal parts to some inspired, bold play from Herbert and his own fluctuating level.

However, Djokovic's mental toughness, rarely in doubt, proved crucial in the second set, which was vital for the overall tenor of the match. He served to stay in the set twice, delivering with aplomb both times. Five of the first six points of the tie-break went his way, alleviating any of the top seed's frustrations.

"I was in a complicated situation because I couldn't find the right position to return his serves, so it was very important to stay focused. If he had won that second set, it would've been a different match," said the 37-year-old, who will face Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena in the second round.

Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka in action during the first round match against Russia's Erika Andreeva during French Open at Roland Garros, Paris, France, May 28, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Women's No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka needed just one hour and eight minutes to move through to the second round as the two-time reigning Australian Open champion swept Erika Andreeva 6-1, 6-2 in commanding fashion.

Sabalenka broke Andreeva, the World No 100, five times and tripled her opponent's total of winners, to win her first career match against the 19-year-old. Sabalenka hit 27 winners to just 16 unforced errors in the 15 games played.

"It was a great match, a great start for me. I think I was focusing on myself the whole game. I think that's why I was able to bring such good tennis," Sabalenka said afterwards, noting that she adjusted well to the humid conditions with the roof of the Philippe-Chatrier court closed.

"In these conditions, I just prepare myself for long rallies and I'm not trying to hit bigger, because if you hit bigger it brings more unforced errors, which is not really something I'm looking for. I'm just preparing myself mentally that it's going to be longer points and it's going to take more shots to finish the point."

Two-time finalist Casper Ruud also progressed with a straight-set win as the Norwegian seventh seed defeated qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

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