PARIS — Novak Djokovic won the first round match on Monday at the French Open. In other Paris news outlets, the Eiffel Tower attracted a tourist, a man went pfft, accompanied by a meal of wine, and the work of renovating Notre Dame continued. Now close to 40 to 30 – he turned 35 on Sunday – Djokovic is playing 67th Major in his golden career. The last time he lost in the first round was in the 2006 French Open. Djokovic has not lost in the quarter-finals since 2009.
This rainy afternoon, Djokovic was forced to play under the roof in Court Chatrier. It doesn’t matter. He was in his Djokovic-est. He hit his sake spots. He came back with precision. He turned the defense into an attack. And he did a good job of beating his opponent, Japanese Yoshi Nishioka, 6-3, 6-1, 6-0. The French do not have a perfect direct translation of “business as usual.” This, however, was the case.
But in tennis, as in life, context is everything. And for Djokovic, Monday came full of meaning. It’s been 253 days since he played in a major game on Sept. 12, losing to the U.S. Open in the 2021 final, dismissing his bet to be the first player to win since the ’80s. du Grand Slam – four major in a calendar year.
Since then? Djokovic … took a deep breath … played cat and mouse games with a vaccine-free state; contracted COVID; He flew to Melbourne for the 2022 Australian Open; on arrival he became a famous international cause; They resisted expulsion from Australia; It was trolled by the Irish airline Ryanair; he brought out immeasurable anger from some; he received immeasurable support from others; Rafael Nadal saw him win the Australian Open – Djokovic’s championship over the last decade – and advanced to the GOAT race with 21 major races; he lost top championships because of his vaccine status; he returned to tennis; he lost, sometimes confusingly, in his first four acts; he regained his form by winning the Roman ceremony at the beginning of the month; He returned to the French Open as a favorite to defend his title and rise to a draw with Nadal.
Otherwise, it’s been eight months or so.
As organized, accurate, and business-minded as Djokovic is in his tennis duties, he can be evil and scattered about pursuing off-court affairs. But that’s it. He’s not a “bad boy in tennis” as the Australian media thought he was comically. It’s not stupid. He is not even a narcissist. Often, quite the opposite.
Throwing it like that demanded a price: his mood and tennis. With some distance from the Australian farce, he told the Tennis Channel in April: “It was a situation I had never faced before, I was involved in tennis politics, in the press, at the age of my tour. everything. … I know all aspects of my life myself, but it was something completely unexpected nonetheless. So yes, it hurt me, I think more mentally and emotionally than physically. I was trying to clear things up so that my mind and body and soul could return to that optimal state. ”
He came to Paris not only as a favorite (?) But also as a fan favorite. Dressed in French Lacoste and speaking French, he hugged her. On Saturday — the day before the tournament began and the other stars were visiting or relaxing at their hotels — Djokovic was on the field, taking trick shots and taking selfies at a Children’s Day event. It was full of elegant quotations, on the baseline between trust and stranger.
He said: “Living last year’s memories is, of course, something that motivates me to try to repeat that, if I may say so.”
He can. Two weeks ago, Djokovic was left without a title in 2022, without a match, without form and without confidence. On Monday night, he won his sixth straight game without losing a set. Avoid the crisis.
A game is less than 15 percent of the way to a major win. Djokovic has a long way to go. It can lose and self-sabotage. It can lose the crowd. On Monday, he let out a dramatic roar that was unmistakably histrionic that attracted children from the crowd. Djokovic won the next point and roared even louder. A metaphor is included there. However, there was an unmistakable feeling that he was coming back.
The career of tennis has never been longer. Tennis courts have never changed faster. After sending his opponent on Monday night, Djokovic made his remarkable gesture to the crowd. He gave an interview in court. He signed autographs. He walked away smiling. The court could have been clay, but for Djokovic the surface was paved again.
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