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French Open: Djokovic keeps title defence on track, Zverev survives scare

Last updated on: May 25, 2022 22:51 IST
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IMAGES from Day 4 of the 2022 French Open at Roland Garros in Paris on Wednesday.

Djokovic keeps French Open title defence on track with Molcan win

Novak Djokovic

IMAGE: Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his second round match against Slovakia's Alex Molcan. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

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.

Yet a successful rerun of his 2021 Roland Garros campaign, when he beat 13-time French Open winner Nadal in the semi-finals, will lift Djokovic alongside his great rival.

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.

Zverev saves match point in five-set thriller en route to third round in Paris

Alexander Zverev

IMAGE: Germany's Alexander Zverev in action during his second round match against Argentina's Sebastian. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Alexander Zverev overcame a woeful start to reach the third round of the French Open, 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."

Zverev looked out of sorts in the opening set, allowing his opponent to race to a 5-1 lead practically unchallenged on a windswept court Philippe Chatrier.

He fell 4-0 down in the second before starting to find his range and while it was not enough to save the set, the German carried the momentum into the third.

Clicking into top gear, Zverev went 3-0 up and won five games in a row to open a 2-0 lead in the fourth set, which he won comfortably.

The 21-year-old Baez looked completely overwhelmed, but then fought tooth and nail to break for 4-2 in the decider as Zverev's unforced errors crept up again.

The German broke straight back with a backhand winner down the line but faced a match point at 5-4, which he saved with a big first serve.

Zverev then broke for 6-5 as Baez fired a backhand wide and he played a solid last game to set up a third-round encounter with American Brandon Nakashima or Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor.

Raducanu's Paris adventure cut short by Sasnovich

IMAGE: Britain's Emma Raducanu reacts after losing her second round match against Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich. Photograph: Yves Herman

U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu was bundled out of the French Open in the second round on Wednesday, losing 3-6 6-1 6-1 to inspired Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

 

The 12th seeded Briton, who had to dig deep in her opening match to come from a set down to beat Czech qualifier Linda Noskova, faded badly after a strong start as her inexperience on clay was exposed by her opponent.

"I still have got quite a long way to go on this surface," Raducanu, who played her first pro match on clay as recently as last month, told reporters.

"I had a good first experience on clay and definitely can improve a lot more than I play right now."

"It just takes a lot more to win the point on this surface. For the clay season I had no expectations. I put myself in four tournaments in a row thinking I will lose in the first round. I won a few matches in each."

She was initially surprised by world number 47 Sasnovich's attacking power.

Sasnovich was hitting the ball early, moving the Briton across the court before 19-year-old Raducanu responded in kind with some aggressive hitting.

After dragging her opponent wide of the court she earned a key break to lead 4-2 and bagged the opening set when she fired a superb cross court winner.

Undaunted, Sasnovich raised her game in the second set to race into a 4-0 lead with a mixture of power and craft.

The Belarusian, who had never gone past the second round in Paris, bagged the second with yet another break and then fought off multiple break points early in the deciding set before taking control, breaking for 3-1 when Raducanu sent a wild forehand five metres over the baseline.

Raducanu, who had been struggling with a back injury in recent weeks, could do nothing to turn the tide.

A dominant Sasnovich put her out of her misery with a sizzling backhand down the line on her first match point after two hours.

Despite the defeat, Raducanu said she would take plenty from it.

"Before I would let the losses affect me more than right now," she said. "Now I look at everything as a lesson and know exactly where I went wrong and where I can improve."

"I definitely look at these matches as a way to improve my own game. I am playing good tennis, training well.

"It might not show straight away. There is a little time lag between when they will actually produce results, you know, on a live situation."

Road opens up for Swiatek as Sakkari loses in Round Two

 

IMAGE: Greece's Maria Sakkari in action during her second round match against Czech Republic's Karolina Muchova. Photograph: Yves Herman

Another obstacle on top seed Iga Swiatek's path to a second French Open title was removed on Wednesday as fourth seed Maria Sakkari was knocked out 7-6(5) 7-6(4) by Czech Karolina Muchova in the second round at Roland Garros.

Sakkari, a semi-finalist here last year, never found her groove on Court Suzanne Lenglen as her opponent, who reached the last four at the Australian Open last year, set up a meeting with American Amanda Anisimova.

The Greek is the latest casualty among the top seeds after Tunisia's Ons Jabeur (6) and defending champion Barbora Krejcikova (2) were knocked out in the first round.

World number one and red hot favourite Swiatek and third seed Paula Badosa are the only two players from the top six left in the women's draw.

"It's very special. It was a big fight it was a big test for me, a challenge and I'm happy I won in two sets," said Muchova, whose last 12 months have been hampered by injuries.

Sakkari, who had showed weaknesses in the first round against French hope Clara Burel, was outplayed initially and fell 5-2 down.

Facing two set points at 40-15, she briefly found her range and her opponent got tight, allowing the Greek to reduce the arrears. Serving for the set, Muchova then double faulted twice as things went back on serve.

Muchova wasted two more set points at 6-5 but she finally bagged the opener with a backhand winner in a tight tiebreak.

Sakkari dug deep in the second set to recover a break of serve for 4-4 and then saved break points with some powerful groundstrokes as the match headed into a second tiebreak.

Muchova opened a 3-0 lead in the tiebreak but got tight again, allowing her opponent to level for 4-4.

She regained her poise, however, and wrapped up the win with a forehand winner.

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