Tennis Tennis Djokovic doubters await as title defence begins at Roland
Tennis Tennis Djokovic doubters await as title defence begins at Roland

Tennis: Tennis-Djokovic doubters await as title defence begins at Roland Garros

(Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic will be the main attraction at Roland Garros on Tuesday when he begins his French Open title defence against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, but after last year’s domination, this year brings less expectation.

The French wildcard entry should provide the 24-time Grand Slam champion with little more than a decent workout before facing tougher opposition, but after losing to lucky loser Luca Nardi at Indian Wells, Djokovic won’t take him lightly.

Along with the French Open, the Serb won the Australian and U.S. Open last year, also reaching the Wimbledon final, and began 2023 with the Adelaide title, but this year Djokovic has failed to make a single final.

His performances on clay this season have seen Djokovic exit Monte Carlo and Geneva at the semi-final stage, while in Rome he lost in the third round, but Paris is what he’s been aiming for.

“I know exactly what I need to do in Grand Slam environment or Grand Slam competition, so to say,” Djokovic told reporters.

“It’s a whole different type of tournament and feel for the tournament than any other, really, tournaments that we have in the calendar.”

His number one ranking is now under serious threat by Jannik Sinner, who ended Djokovic’s title defence in Australia at the semi-final stage, and the 37-year-old will need a significant improvement in Paris to retain his place on the throne.

Herbert knows what it takes to win at Roland Garros, but his two French Open titles have come playing doubles, where he has a career Grand Slam. As a singles player, he has yet to make it past the third round of the French Open.

The pair have just one previous meeting, which came over a decade ago. At the Paris Masters in 2013, Herbert was Djokovic’s first opponent, with the Serb winning in straight sets before going on to win the title.

After Rafa Nadal’s exit on Monday, fans will now look to “The Djoker” to provide the entertainment at Roland Garros.

Last year’s beaten finalist Casper Ruud is also in action, taking on Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves. The Norwegian seventh seed is fresh from his victory in Geneva where he played the semi-final and final on Saturday.

“I just find it calm, peaceful, and at a 250 it’s a smaller event, and I can focus on all the practice I want to do and also play matches at the same time,” Ruud said when he arrived in Paris.

World number two Aryna Sabalenka begins her quest to end Iga Swiatek’s domination at Roland Garros when she plays Russian Erika Andreeva. Sabalenka, Australian Open champion, reached the semi-finals last year, her best performance in Paris.

Fourth seed Elena Rybakina will aim to put her recent health issues behind her when she faces Belgian Greet Minnen. The Kazakh pulled out of Indian Wells and missed the Italian Open, and last year withdrew in Paris before the third round.

(Reporting by Trevor Stynes)

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