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By Richard Pagliaro | @TennisNow | Thursday, May 30, 2024


World No. 1 Novak Djokovic swept No. 63 Roberto Carballes Baena to charge into the French Open third round for the 19th consecutive year.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Roland Garros’ red clay is prime platform for Novak Djokovic’s elastic expressionism.

Bending the ball into obscure areas of the court—including a slick sliding around-the-net-post winner—Djokovic imposed his identity from first ball today.

Sabalenka: Pleasure Principle

World No. 1 Djokovic dismissed Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 charging into the Roland Garros third round for a men’s record 19th consecutive year.

Playing his most dynamic clay-court match of the year, Djokovic looked like Djokovic today.

The 37-year-old Serbian superstar raised his Grand Slam record to 368-49—passing Serena Williams on the all-time major match wins list. Should Djokovic reach the fourth round, he will equal Roger Federer’s all-time major match win mark of 369 victories.

It's been a foregone conclusion among many that No. 2 Jannik Sinner will surpass Djokovic for the world No. 1 ranking after Roland Garros ends. Djokovic must reach the French Open final to have a shot of retaining No. 1.

Given that pressure and his struggles this season, you can understand why Djokovic framed his French Open differently.

Prior to this tournament, Djokovic summed up his mission statement simply: “High hopes and low expectations."

Playing for his first final of the season, the Grand Slam king got exactly what he needed against world No. 63 Carballes Baena. Djokovic gained traction in rallies, hit a lot of balls against an experienced clay-courter, applied some acute angles and showed a sense of joy doing it.

Despite periods of up-and-down play, Djokovic says his deep belief that he can win a 25th major remains unwavering.

"Well, there is always that kind of conviction and belief inside of me I can win a slam," Djokovic told the media in Paris. "That's the reason why I'm still competing at this level. That's why I'm here. At this age I wouldn't really be competing at the slams and continuing to play professional tennis if I didn't believe that I possess quality to go all the way to the title match.

"I still of course sense that I have the game and I have the goods to go far. But as I said in the press conference prior to the start of the tournament, I don't want to get too much ahead of the present day, because I haven't had really a great form as a lead-up to Roland Garros.

"So I have to keep my expectations a bit lower. Of course, hopes and beliefs and convictions are always there, always high, and I always aim for the highest star, so to say. But I'm being very conscious of the present moment and what needs to be done on a daily basis to build my form as the tournament progresses hopefully and then peak at the right time when it matters the most."

Throughout this strange and strained clay-court campaign, Djokovic has looked disconnected, disinterested and at times depleted gulping deep breaths of air a few times during his Rome last to Alejandro Tabilo.

Today, Djokovic looked eager and enthusiastic.

Playing proactive tennis, Djokovic drilled 43 winners—more than doubling Carballes Baena’s 20 winners—against only 24 unforced errors. Djokovic won 20 of 26 net points, taking it to the Spaniard after pushing him to the perimeter.

“I haven't’ had too many wins coming into Roland Garros so I had to lower my expectations, but of course I always believe in myself, in my capabilities,” Djokovic told Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim afterward. “I know what I’m capable of doing, I’ve done it many times in my career, so going far in a Grand Slam has always been the goal. Last five years more so than first 15 years of my career.

“I look forward to what’s coming up, Hopefully I can deliver the goods.”

Grinding through a physical 10th game, Djokovic drew the netted error to snatch a one-set lead after 50 minutes.

A fierce front-runner in majors, Djokovic streaked to a 4-0 second-set lead. A weary Carballes Baena double faulted away another break to fall behind 1-5. Djokovic served out the second set, collecting a two-set lead after 86 minutes of play.

That fantastic flick around the net points opened the third set as Djokovic wrapped up a dominant win in two hours, four minutes.

Three-time Roland Garros champion Djokovic will face either French home hero Gael Monfils or 30th-seeded Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who owns a Monte-Carlo win over the top seed and pushed him to five sets at the 2021 French Open.


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