French Open 2019

French Open 2019: Novak Djokovic one step closer to second Nole Slam; Zverev makes milestone win

Novak Djokovic beats Henri Laaksonen in straight sets to reach the round of 32 at the French Open

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It was quiet on the streets of Paris on Thursday morning: Ascension Day is a public holiday in France, and many corner cafes in the usually bustling residential streets of Boulogne-Billancourt had their shutters down.

However, on the streets surrounding Roland Garros, the sounding horns of impatient drivers may have been absent, but the pavements were filling up soon after 9am: welcoming stewards, police, bag-checkers and eager ticket-holders readying for the gates to open for this 2019 French Open.

On such a warm and peaceful morning, the first sounds to trickle over the air came from the sound of ball on racket, accompanied by the vocals of the early-bird players, those scheduled first on the play-list. In this case, Victoria Azarenka’s distinctive chirp was already in play—she appeared on the practice schedule at 8.15, followed by a clutch more players.

But their peaceful warm-ups do not last long. Once the gates open at 9.30, the fans filter down the site to find their favourites.

One of the most eagerly sought is the world No1 Novak Djokovic, who would later play after Azarenka on Suzanne Lenglen. His practice was the last before the court was swept in readiness for the first match, and some lucky fans would get a bonus glimpse of their hero.

When the time came, the noise levels were altogether higher: After all, here was a man who has embraced Paris and the French, becoming such a fluent speaker that he conducts his on-court interviews in their native tongue.

But many are here to follow his ambitious, remarkable but eminently possible pursuit of what has become known as the Nole Slam—winning all four Majors on the bounce.

He did it once before, in 2016, achieving something that his biggest rivals, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, have been unable to do, despite their greater tally of Majors.

It made Djokovic just the third man to hold all four Majors at once, and the first since Rod Laver did it in a single calendar year. Should he win four in a row again, he would become the second man in history, and the first in the Open era, to hold all four Majors at the same time on two separate occasions. Again, Rod Laver is the yardstick with this two calendar Slams.

The No1’s form coming into Paris certainly suggested it was an entirely feasible prospect. He won the Madrid Masters, was runner-up in Rome, and made the quarters in Monte-Carlo. And his history at Roland Garros was formidable: one title from four finals, and the last time he had fallen short of the quarters was a third-round run in 2009. His numbers, after his first-round trouncing of Hubert Hurkacz in around an hour and a half bore testament: 64-13.

And he made no secret of his desire for his personal milestone ahead of the tournament:

“This is the tournament that I was preparing for, so to say, for last couple of months. I wanted to peak in this tournament and this is where I want to play my best tennis. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but for me, there is an extra motivation and incentive to win Roland Garros because of the opportunity to hold all four slams, something I did three years ago in my career, and that gives me obviously enough reason to believe I can do it again.”

It did not bode well for his latest challenger, the lucky loser Henri Laaksonen, who was competing in the second round in Paris for the first time. For a start, Djokovic had never lost to a lucky loser before, and he would move to 10-0 against Laaksonen, in another hour and a half demolition, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.

And if his fans want to catch Djokovic come Saturday, they will be advised to arrive on time. Djokovic’s first scheduled seed, No26 Gilles Simon, lost out to Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso, ranked 147, and playing his first second-round match at a Major. It would be something of a surprise if Djokovic spent more than another hour and a half on court.

But if the aim of winning that Nole Slam is not enough, Djokovic revealed the other incentive that drives him on to greater heights:

“It’s one of my biggest motivations… to win against Rafa or Roger on the biggest events. That’s as big of a challenge as it can get in tennis for me.”

He cannot, however, meet either of them until the final. Before that, he could face No13 seed Borna Coric in the fourth round—the young Croat beat Lloyd Harris, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(2).

Scheduled for a quarter-final clash with Djokovic is No5 seed Alexander Zverev, who beat Mikael Ymer, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(3) in just under two hours.

On ranking, this was not a surprising victory, but what was significant for Zverev is that it marked only the second time in 11 matches at Roland Garros that he had recorded a straight-sets win. Last year, he came through three five-setters en route to his first Major quarter-final, and then beat John Millman here in the first round, having led by two sets, 7-6(4), 6-3, 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-3.

It was an impressive performance from the German, with 12 aces among 36 winners and 20 points won at the net. Even so, Zverev could have won the match a little sooner: He stood at 5-3 in the third set, before Ymer won three straight games. However, the No5 seed halted the flow to set a tricky third-round meeting with No30 seed Dusan Lajovic.

The two men have met once before—here last year, one of those five-set victories to Zverev.

More men’s results:

Roberto Bautista Agut, No18 seed, beat Taylor Fritz 6-2, 6-3, 6-2

Jan-Lennard Stuff beat Radu Albot, 7-6(2), 7-6(3), 6-7(4), 6-2.

Jordan Thompson beat Ivo Karlovic, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-3.

Gossip
Gabriel Jesus
Arsenal expected to lodge £35m bid for Man City attacker Gabriel Jesus - report
Gossip
Erik ten Hag
Journalist: Man United 'trying everything' to sign Frenkie de Jong from FC Barcelona
Gossip
Ousmane Dembele
Chelsea FC still keen on deal to sign Ousmane Dembele from FC Barcelona - report
Gossip
Erik ten Hag
Man United considering move to sign Sven Botman from Lille - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano provides update on two Chelsea FC stars’ futures
Gossip
Gabriel Jesus
Arsenal expected to lodge £35m bid for Man City attacker Gabriel Jesus - report
Gossip
Erik ten Hag
Journalist: Man United 'trying everything' to sign Frenkie de Jong from FC Barcelona
Gossip
Ousmane Dembele
Chelsea FC still keen on deal to sign Ousmane Dembele from FC Barcelona - report
Gossip
Erik ten Hag
Man United considering move to sign Sven Botman from Lille - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano provides update on two Chelsea FC stars’ futures
Slideshow
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature