PARIS: World number one Novak Djokovic completed a solid 6-2 6-3 7-6(4) victory over Slovakia's Alex Molcan in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday to keep his title defence and quest for a record-equalling 21st Grand Slam on track.
With Djokovic unable to defend his Australian Open title due to his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Spaniard Rafa Nadal broke a three-way tie for the most Grand Slam titles with the Serb and Roger Federer by winning the Melbourne Park major at the start of the year.
On a blustery day on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the 35-year-old Djokovic cruised through the opening two sets, breaking Molcan's serve three times without giving the Slovakian a single opportunity on his own delivery.
The 24-year-old Molcan, trained by Djokovic's former long-time coach Marian Vajda, was ranked 255th when he went down in straight sets to Djokovic in their only previous meeting in Belgrade last May but since then the left-hander has climbed to a career-high ranking of 38th.
With nothing to lose, Molcan opened up his shoulders in the third set and with some aggressive all-court hitting managed to cancel out Djokovic's early advantage to force a tiebreak.
But Djokovic then managed to go up a gear and converted his second matchpoint when the left-hander found the net with a return.
"It was a difficult match with a lot of winds, changing direction," he said on court. "You have to be fully focused. I have a lot of respect for Alex. He's got a game that's made for this surface. I hope it's the last time I play against Marian Vajda as coach of my opponent."
The top seed will next meet Slovenia's former world number 43 Aljaz Bedene for a place in the fourth round.
Alexander Zverev overcame a woeful start to reach the third round, saving a match point in a 2-6 4-6 6-1 6-2 7-5 victory over up-and-coming Argentine Sebastian Baez.
The German third seed survived a late fightback from the world number 36 and screamed his lungs out when Baez sent a forehand wide on match point.
It was the fifth year in a row that Zverev, who achieved his best result at Roland Garros when he reached the semi-finals last year, had to go through a five-setter in one of the opening two rounds.
"I lost a US Open final being two sets up and I've learned from it. He's unbelievable and he's got a bright future ahead of him," Zverev said of his opponent, who won his maiden ATP title in Estoril earlier this month.
"I just tried to fight. You have to win these kind of matches, when you're not playing well because you can't always play well."
In other second round matches of the day, 10th seed Cameron Norrie beat Jason Kubler 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, Brandon Nakashima beat Tallon Griekspoor 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-2, Diego Schwartzman beat Jaume Munar 2-6, 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, Bernabe Zapata Miralles beat Taylor Fritz 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, Filip Krajinovic beat Borna Gojo 7-6 (5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1, Aljaz Bedene beat Pablo Cuevas 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4, Karen Khachanov beat Hugo Dellien 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-3, John Isner beat Grégoire Barrère 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 9th seed Felix Auger Aliassime beat Camilo Ugo Carabelli 6-0, 6-3, 6-4, Grigor Dimitrov beat Borna Coric 6-0, 6-4, 6-3.
In women's section, Kaia Kanepi beat Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-4, 6-4, Amanda Anisimova beat Donna Vekic 6-4, 6-1, Leylah Annie Fernandez beat Katerina Siniaková 6-3, 6-2, Sloane Stephens beat Sorana Cîrstea 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, Varvara Gracheva beat Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-5 in their second round matches. Agencies
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