PARIS: Novak Djokovic started his bid for a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles title with a straight-sets victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic in the French Open first round on Monday, as Carlos Alcaraz waited to open his tournament.
Two-time Roland Garros champion Djokovic held off a late rally from his American opponent on Court Philippe Chatrier to clinch a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/1) victory.
He has still not lost in his opening match of a major since the 2006 Australian Open.
“I’m very motivated to stay in this tournament for a long time, it’s just the start now,” said Djokovic after kicking off his 19th consecutive French Open campaign.
“I’m happy. I’ve started well and hope I can improve further for the next match.”
The 36-year-old will face Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who he has beaten four times in as many meetings, in the second round.
Djokovic is only seeded third at Roland Garros this year despite the absence of his great rival and 14-time winner Rafael Nadal through injury, behind world number one Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev.
He is tied with Nadal for most men’s Slam singles trophies and just one behind the 23 of Serena Williams. Margaret Court holds the all-time record of 24.
Kovacevic, the world number 114 playing in his first Grand Slam match, battled hard but could not put Djokovic under sustained pressure until it was too late.
One break in the sixth game was enough for the Serbian star to take the opening set, before he raced through the second.
Djokovic broke to love to start the third set before saving three break points in the second game.
Kovacevic did break for the first time in the match to level the set at 3-3, only to drop serve again immediately.
Djokovic uncharacteristically stumbled when serving for the match as Kovacevic forced a tie-break to the delight of the crowd.
But the world number three quickly regrouped, dominating the breaker before ending Kovacevic’s resistance on his first match point with a thumping forehand return.