Novak Djokovic faced off one of his biggest nightmares, but managed to defeat a player guided by his former coach to reach the French Open third round on Wednesday.
The Serb who parted company this season with his longtime Slovak coach, needed a tiebreak to get past Marian Vajda’s newest pupil, Alex Molcan, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(4).
“I hope this is the first and last time that I have to face someone coached by my former coach,” the world No. 1 said after his win in two and a quarter hours on the Lenglen showcourt.
“It was a tough match with a lot of swirling wind. It was difficult to stay concentrated – especially against a clay specialist like Alex.”
Djokovic beat the Slovak for his home Belgrade title in spring, 2021, when Vajda was still in the Serb’s corner and Molcan ranked 255 and had to qualify into the field. Molcan now stands 38th on the ATP after working with Vajda.
“So far so good. I’m pleased with the way I’m feeling on the court, the way I have been striking the ball,” Djokovic said.
“Playing against a specialist on clay, a tricky opponent coming from (Lyon) final last week, it was never going to be an easy match.
“In the third set I was a break up, and allowed him to come back to the match.
“I held my nerve and played well in the tiebreak. Everything is going in the right direction. I’m looking forward to the next challenge.”
Third seed Alexander Zverev saved a match point as he recovered from two sets to love down to defeat Argentine Sebastian Baez 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5,
The epic took nearly three and three-quarter hours, with Zverev saving eight of 13 break points and advancing with 42 winners.
He faced and saved a match point in the 10th game fifth set as the South American youngster’s early level had dropped off.
The pair played a fortnight ago in Rome, with the German pounding out a straight-sets victory.
“In the beginning. I had absolutely no rhythm today on that court,” Zverev said. “Conditions (windy, cloudy) were very different than the other day, so took me a while to get into the match.
“But I knew I had to keep fighting, find a way, especially in the second set, I
mean, I knew that I was not going to win it, but I knew I had to find a rhythm in that set.
Brit Cam Norrie dispatched the last Australian in the field as he overcame Jason Kubler 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 and pronounced himself perfectly placed for a solid run in Paris.
The 10th seed won his eighth straight match on clay, following up on his title last weekend in Lyon.
He now tangles with Karen Khachanov in the third round and will be favoured in that contest.
“It’s always nice to come into the game as the underdog and go out to play free,” he said, adding: “If you lose, nothing happens.
“(But) generally, these last two years, I’ve done well being the favourite. It’s a different kind of pressure.
“I’m exactly where I want to be, in the third round, with good matches played.”
John Isner moved to within touching distance of his best career showing here – three times in the fourth round – as he defeated French wild card Gregoire Barrere 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(5).
The winner dropped 23 aces in the victory and produced 51 winners as he moved to the third round.
Argentine Diego Schwartzman needed a full five-set comeback effort to put out Spaniard Jaume Munar 2-6, 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 with the South American breaking seven times.
Serb Filip Krajinovic joined compatriot Djokovic as a winner, defeating Croat Borna Gojo 7-6(5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1.
Main photo:- Novak Djokovic beating Alex Molcan – by Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd