© Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Novak Djokovic improves to 18-0 in the first round at Roland Garros.

Djokovic Breaks Early Nishioka Resistance For Opening Win

Serbian faces Molcan or Coria next

Novak Djokovic enjoyed a belated 35th birthday celebration with a dominant opening-round win Monday evening at Roland Garros. The World No. 1, whose birthday was Sunday, improved to 18-0 in the first round at the clay Grand Slam with a strong performance against Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka.

In a 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 result, Djokovic broke through stubborn early resistance in each of the first two sets to ease past his World No. 99 opponent for his 82nd win at the Paris event.

"Have to be pleased with the start [to the tournament]," Djokovic assessed. "Beginning of the match, until I really got used to and adapted to his game, it was difficult to go through him. He's very quick, one of the quickest players on the tour.

"The conditions [were] quite slow. The ball was not bouncing, and it was just difficult to penetrate him. So the first set was very close, but I managed to find the right serves at the right time. That helped. Then I cruised through the second and third really when I started going through the ball a bit more."

In a nearly 10-minute opening game, the Serbian saved three break points across five deuces. But once the Court Philippe Chatrier roof closed midway through the opening set, Djokovic took command. He saved a break point in his first service game of set two before racing out to a 5-0 lead. Though he could not serve out the middle set from 5-0, he completed the shutout in set three to ease through.

FOLLOW THIS WEEK'S ACTION

📺 TV Schedule
🎾 Watch Live On Tennis TV
📱 Follow Live Scores On ATP WTA Live
📧 Sign Up For Newsletters

Nishioka frustrated Djokovic at times with his determination and movement, and the match was much closer than the scoreline suggested until the Serbian pulled away late. The World No. 1 triumphed with a display of great variety, mixing in drop shots and looped baseline groundstrokes with more direct attacks throughout.

Djokovic did not drop a set in his Rome title run two weeks ago, and extended that streak to 13 sets in a row with victory on Chatrier.

"I have been feeling very well on clay in the last three, four weeks, of course," Djokovic said. "Excited to bring out intensity on the court and compete with the guys. I'm happy to be back. Roland Garros is one of the biggest tournaments in the world, and the memories from last year still are fresh in my head, in my mind. It was nice to be back on the centre court."

He has not lost a set in the opening round in Paris since 2010, and has never dropped more than three games in a set against Nishioka, whom he beat for the third time on Monday.

Nishioka, who was playing in just his second clay-court main draw of the season (Munich), drops to 2-14 against Top 10 opponents, including 0-4 on clay. He was seeking his first clay win of 2022.

Djokovic, the No. 1 seed for the fourth straight year and eighth year overall at Roland Garros, has never lost before the semi-finals as top seed, including his title runs in 2016 and 2021. He has reached the quarter-finals or better each year since 2010, and 15 of the past 17 years. Should he get to the last eight this year, he is seeded to meet Rafael Nadal in a rematch of their semi-final classic from 2021.

The Serbian is in his record 371st week atop the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, though his position is under threat from both Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev this fortnight. Djokovic remains atop the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings but will soon lose the 2,000 points he earned from his 2021 title.

You May Also Like: Djokovic vs Medvedev vs Zverev: The 3-Way Roland Garros Battle For World No. 1

Alex Molcan or Federico Coria will provide the next opposition for Djokovic, with their opening-round match delayed by rain Monday. Slovakia's Molcan is coached by Marian Vajda, who previously worked with Djokovic.

"It's nice to have the full crowd, and I was lucky to be scheduled on the centre court because of the rain interruptions today. Many matches were not completed," Djokovic said. "Obviously centre court being the only one with the roof helps a lot when you know you're going to finish your match.

"At night usually in all Slams, in all tournaments, the atmosphere is more energetic, more electric, crowd gets into it. It was a good experience."

More stories like this in: