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DAY 3 WRAP: Djokovic shrugs off troubles as Sabalenka powers through

cricket28 May 2024 21:31| Ā© AFP
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Defending champion Novak Djokovic shrugged off his recent troubles to sweep to his 93rd career win at the French Open on Tuesday, extending his run of first round Roland Garros victories to a perfect 20.


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Djokovic, chasing a fourth title in Paris and record 25th Grand Slam triumph, came through against 142nd-ranked French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.

The 37-year-old, who saw career-long rival and 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal exit the tournament on Monday, had arrived under a cloud.

For the first time since 2018, he is without a title and has yet to reach a final this season.

He has also endured recent misfortunes being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome and then suffering stomach problems in Geneva.

"It was a solid performance," said Djokovic. "I could have done better, especially on the return, but bravo to him for serving well.

"It's a victory in three sets, that's what matters at this moment. I felt better compared to the last few weeks. I was focused. I encouraged myself, I am satisfied with my state of mind."

Djokovic has advanced to the French Open quarterfinals or better every year since 2010.

He will face Spain's Roberto Carballes Baena for a place in the last 32.

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, a semifinalist in 2023, over-powered Russian teenager Erika Andreeva 6-1, 6-2 in just 68 minutes under the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier as heavy rain caused a five-hour delay to action around the grounds.

'TOUGH CONDITIONS'

World number two Sabalenka fired 27 winners past the 100th-ranked Andreeva and broke serve five times in a dominant display.

"I'm trying to do well on clay, it is tough conditions here but I enjoy playing here and I'm just trying to bring my best tennis every time -- whatever the surface," said Sabalenka.

The Belarusian has made at least the last-four at her past six Grand Slams and is expected to be Iga Swiatek's toughest rival in the Pole's bid for a fourth French Open title.

There was better luck for Andreeva's younger sister Mirra, who went to the fourth round as a 16-year-old in 2023.

She swept past Emina Bektas of the United States in straights sets.

Two-time runner-up Casper Ruud, who won clay-court titles in Barcelona and Geneva in the build-up to Roland Garros, cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves.

"It's great to be back here at Roland Garros," he said. "Hopefully I can make it another good year here."

Ruud was beaten in straight sets by Djokovic in last year's final following a one-sided loss to Nadal in the 2022 showpiece. He also lost the 2022 US Open final to Carlos Alcaraz.

Frenchwoman Alize Cornet's career ended with a straight-sets defeat by Zheng Qinwen in her record-extending 69th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.

Cornet was no match for China's Australian Open runner-up Zheng, losing 6-2, 6-1.

She made her debut at Roland Garros as a 15-year-old in 2005 and has not missed a Grand Slam tournament since the 2006 US Open.

'CRIED WATCHING RAFA'

Cornet reached a career-high ranking of 11th in 2009 and enjoyed a surprise run to the 2022 Australian Open quarterfinals.

"I already cried yesterday watching Rafa," said a tearful Cornet after seeing Nadal lose what was likely his last match at the French Open on Monday.

Over on Court Suzanne Lenglen, former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina powered into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Belgian Greet Minnen.

Kazakh world number four Rybakina is the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this season, in the Stuttgart semifinals in April.

There was no celebration for Argentine qualifier Roman Andres Burruchaga who has sporting success in the blood.

His father Jorge famously scored the winning goal for Diego Maradona's Argentina in the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.

Ranked at 144, the 22-year-old came up short in a three-set loss to experienced Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.

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