PARIS – Back on the court where he completed his career Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic showed no sign of the crisis of confidence that has affected his game since winning the French Open last year.
With new coach Andre Agassi watching from the stands, the second-seeded Serb dispatched clay-court specialist Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the second round of the clay-court major on Monday.
Trailing 0-40 on his serve in the final game, Djokovic won the next five points and sealed the match with a service winner.
Visibly happy with his performance, he then mingled with ball boys at the center of the court and thanked the crowd.
“Last year, I won here for the first time, it was really a special moment for me on the court, an important moment of my career, I’ll never forget this feeling,” Djokovic said, speaking in French.
Since beating Andy Murray in last year’s final, Djokovic has failed to add any more major titles to his collection. He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years, was beaten in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.
Djokovic, who lost his No. 1 ranking to Murray last year, has hired Agassi as part of his bid to win Roland-Garros and become the first man in the Open era to win each of the four majors twice.
“It’s incredible to have Agassi in my team, every day is special with him, everyday I’m learning something new,” said Djokovic, who split with longtime coach Marian Vajda at the start of the month.
“I’ve changed everyone, but I will not change my wife,” added Djokovic in a smile. “Never.”
Under a hot sun, Djokovic was in a joyful mood on the showcase Philippe Chatrier court. After Granollers hit a delightful shot around the net post and inside the tramlines in the third set, Djokovic clapped and walked to the net to high-five his opponent.
“It was really difficult physically, but I found my best level on important points,” Djokovic said.
There was no hiccup on court Suzanne Lenglen for Rafael Nadal, who started his bid to win a 10th title at Roland Garros with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 defeat of Benoit Paire. The 14-time Grand Slam champion produced a clinical display, limiting his mistakes to 18 unforced errors and advancing in less than two hours.
Also in the men’s draw: David Goffin of Belgium beat French qualifier Paul Henri-Mathieu in straight sets to reach the second round. The 10th-seeded Goffin won 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, sealing the match with an ace. … The 14th-seeded Jack Sock, of the U.S., recorded his worst result ever at the clay-court Grand Slam, losing 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 in the first round to Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic. … Steve Johnson of the U.S. held off a valiant comeback from Yuichi Sugita to reach the second round. The 25th-seeded Johnson won 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-3.
Mladenovic plays through back pain to win
Kristina Mladenovic played through pain to hold off Jennifer Brady of the U.S. and reach the second round of the French Open.
Mladenovic, seeded 13th, struggled to hold back tears after prevailing 3-6, 6-3, 9-7 in just under three hours, all the while encouraged passionately by her home crowd on Court Philippe Chartrier.
She wasn’t even sure if she would be able to start the match because of a back problem, and had to go off the court for treatment when she was 3-0 down in the opening set.
Also in the women’s draw: Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova is safely through to the second round after a straight sets victory over Zheng Saisai of China. Pliskova, who is the highest-ranked player at Roland Garros after world No. 1 Angelique Kerber lost on Sunday, triumphed 7-5, 6-2. … Defending champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain is through to the second round with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Italian Francesca Schiavone.
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