Djokovic beats former coach's new pupil at French Open

Alexander Zverev saves match point in five-set thriller against Argentine Sebastian Baez

By AFP/Reuters

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Novak Djokovic returns to Slovakia's Alex Molcan during their match on Wednesday. — AFP
Novak Djokovic returns to Slovakia's Alex Molcan during their match on Wednesday. — AFP

Published: Wed 25 May 2022, 9:00 PM

World number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic eased into the French Open third round on Wednesday by defeating the new pupil of his former long-time coach.

Top seed Djokovic saw off Slovakia’s Alex Molcan, who is coached by Marian Vajda, the man who inspired most of his 20 Slam titles, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).

Djokovic fired 10 aces and 40 winners past his 38th-ranked opponent and will next face Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene for a place in the last 16.

“It was a real pleasure to play on Court Suzanne Lenglen. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to play here,” said the 35-year-old.

“I could feel the support. There were tricky conditions today with a lot of wind coming in different directions.

“So I had to stay focused and stay patient.”

“I have a lot of respect for Alex, he’s a specialist on this surface.”

Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev overcame a woeful start to reach the third round, 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.

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