PARIS: Pretty much everyone expects to see, and likely wants to see, Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic face each other in the French Open semifinals. There’s work to be done first, of course, and both began their journeys at Roland Garros with straight-set victories Monday against opponents making Grand Slam debuts.
These were supposed to be straightforward chances to ease into the clay-court tournament for the two popular picks to win the men’s trophy — and it turned out that way, other than a brief late blip for each.
Djokovic, a 22-time major champ seeded No. 3, was up first in Court Philippe Chatrier, facing 114th-ranked Aleksandar Kovacevic, a 24-year-old from New York.
Djokovic served for the victory at 5-4 in the third set but got broken there. Not surprisingly, he quickly righted himself and won 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (1).
“Made me work for my victory,” Djokovic said.
“I played really well and held things under control for 2 1/2 sets and then lost my serve and things got a little bit on a wrong side for me,” said the 36-year-old Serb, who can break the men’s mark for most Slam titles he currently shares with Rafael Nadal, the 14-time French Open winner sidelined by a bad hip. “But I managed to hold my nerves and played pretty much a perfect tiebreak.”
Next came Alcaraz, a one-time major champ seeded No. 1, in Court Suzanne Lenglen, facing 159th-ranked qualifier Flavio Cobolli, a 21-year-old from Florence, Italy.
Alcaraz held three match points to close things at 5-3 in the third set but couldn’t convert, then found himself at 5-all minutes later. Not surprisingly, he quickly righted himself and won 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.
Before the start of the tournament, Djokovic called Alcaraz the logical pick to take the trophy, given his recent form on clay: 21-2 as of Monday, with three titles.
Hard to argue.
On the other hand, Djokovic also noted that he loves the best-of-five-set format of majors and not-so-accidentally mentioned the 22-1 gap in such championships.
Other seeded men advancing on Day 2 in Paris included No. 12 Frances Tiafoe, No. 14 Cam Norrie, No. 15 Borna Coric, No. 18 Alex de Minaur, No. 19 Roberto Bautista Agut and No. 26 Denis Shapovalov. Among the seeded women moving into the second round: No. 5 Caroline Garcia, No. 14 Beatriz Haddad Maia, No. 20 Madison Keys and No. 22 Donna Vekic.
Seeds on the way out included No. 12 Belinda Bencic and No. 16 Karolina Pliskova in the women’s bracket and No. 10 Felix Auger-Aliassime and No. 25 Botic Van de Zandschulp in the men’s.
Part of the group of past Grand Slam champions who won Monday were Stan Wawrinka and Sloane Stephens.
Wawrinka edged Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 1-6, 6-4 across more than 4 1/2 hours, while 2017 US Open title winner Stephens defeated two-time major finalist Pliskova 6-0, 6-4.
“One of the big reasons why I keep playing is to relive those emotions. It was special today again to be here, a lot of support, a lot of fans here. It helped me a lot today to stay in the match and to keep fighting for it,” said Wawrinka, a 38-year-old whose three major titles include the 2015 French Open but has dealt with a series of injuries in more recent years. “If I can stay five more minutes on court, I will do it.”