Novak Djokovic into French Open second round as Serb sees off big fan Kovacevic

Novak Djokovic earned a straight-set win over Aleksandar Kovacevic as he opened his campaign for a third French Open title. The third seed booked his spot in the second round with a 6-3 6-2 7-6(1) victory after long-time Djokovic fan Kovacevic stepped up his level in the third set.

Djokovic was starting his quest for a record 23rd Grand Slam title against a somewhat familiar face in Kovacevic. While he had never faced the 24-year-old on the match court, the American was a big fan growing up – even before he was a champion – and met Djokovic on multiple occasions.

The world No 114 was present for Djokovic’s US Open debut in 2005 and took a photo with the then-18-year-old after he beat Gael Monfils in the opening round. 18 years later, Kovacevic was making his own Grand Slam debut against the man himself. The New Yorker held his own early on, saving a break point to draw level at 2-2.

But he was broken in his next service game with the two-time French Open champion taking the opening set 6-3. Djokovic put his foot on the gas in set number two as he broke Kovacevic twice and took it 6-2, dropping just four points on his serve.

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The third seed broke in the first game of the third set and there was some drama as the let machine kept going off. It prompted Djokovic to approach the chair umpire. “I can’t overrule when it goes off,” the official said, as the Serb responded: “But can you check the machine because it’s happened five times this match already.”

But he played on and was able to hold after saving three break points – the first chances Kovacevic created all match. The American had stepped things up and was finally able to break the Djokovic serve for the first time, drawing level at 3-3. The 36-year-old broke back immediately and the third set became a game of cat-and-mouse as Djokovic was then broken while serving for the match.

After losing three games in a row, Djokovic held to send the set into a tiebreak. The two-time French Open champion regained control in the breaker, leading 5-1 at the changeover with two mini-breaks. And he didn’t drop another point, finally closing out a straight-set victory to get his Roland Garros campaign off to a winning start.

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The world No 3 is seeking a historic 23rd Grand Slam title in Rafael Nadal’s absence, with the pair currently tied on the men’s singles record of 22. Djokovic would also equal Serena Williams’ Open Era record of 23 Major trophies with the victory in Paris.

“It’s no secret that one of the main reasons I play today and compete in professional tennis is to try to break more records and make more history in tennis. That’s extremely motivating and inspiring for me,” Djokovic said of breaking the record before the tournament started. And he will now face Marton Fucsovics, who defeated wildcard Hugo Grenier in four sets in his own opening match.

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