Tennis: Djokovic reaches French Open third round

Novak Djokovic (pictured) returns the ball to Steve Darcis at the French Open on May 26, 2016.
Novak Djokovic (pictured) returns the ball to Steve Darcis at the French Open on May 26, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - Top seed Novak Djokovic eased into the third round of the French Open on Thursday, swatting aside Belgian veteran Steve Darcis 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, but he said he was still playing below his best.

It was the 29-year-old Serb’s 50th win at Roland Garros in a tournament that he is itching to capture to become just the eighth man to win all four Grand Slam titles.

He already has 11 Grand Slam crowns – six coming at the Australian Open, three at Wimbledon and two at the US Open – but to date he has come up short in Paris, losing three of the last four finals.

A straight sets winner in his opener, Djokovic went 3-0 up in double quick time, but dropped serve in the fifth game as Darcis went on the attack to pull level.

A tie-break looked to be looming before a brace of double faults opened the door for Djokovic in a marathon 12th game, and he took the hour-long set when a Darcis backhand slice went marginally long.

The world number one made it five games in a row to go 3-0 ahead in the second and with Darcis looking more and more out of his depth he moved out into a two sets to love lead.

The third set merely confirmed Djokovic’s ascendancy, breaking the Darcis serve once again in the opening game and going on to wrap up the tie up in comfortable fashion.

Still, the Serb, who lost to Andy Murray in the Italian Open final earlier this month, said that there were aspects of his game that were troubling him.

“Well, I’m pleased to get the job done in three sets, but, you know, there were things that I definitely didn’t like in my game today. Too many unforced errors from the first or second shot in the rally,” he said.

“I would say that all three sets when I was a break up I allowed Steve to come back to those sets and fight for those sets, because, you know, I was managing to drop my serve very easily.

“So hopefully that’s not going to happen in the following rounds. The matches will get tougher, and it’s kind of expected at the beginning that you are a bit rusty on the court, and hopefully things will get better.”

Djokovic will next go up against Slovenia-born Briton Aljaz Bedene who edged Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in a five-set thriller 7/6 (7/4), 6-3, 4-6, 5-7, 6-2.

It is the first time that Bedene has reached the third round of a Grand Slam tournament and he will join fellow Briton Murray in going for a place in the last 16.

Djokovic said he expected a tough encounter with a player he often practices with.

“He’s a good guy. He’s very talented, very quick motion for a first serve. So, yeah, I’m expecting a tough one, because now it’s third round and slowly we are getting into second week of tournament.

“Not easy matches anymore. I know he doesn’t have anything to lose. We might play on centre court, one of the two big ones, and I’m sure he will give it his all.”