Djokovic Bid for History Off to Winning Start
Roger Federer may make Rafael Nadal his favorite to lift a seventh French Open crown, but Novak Djokovic's historic bid to become the first man in 43 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles is on track after Monday's first round win over Italian Potito Starace.
After a tough opening set forced him to go the distance in the tiebreak, Djokovic won his encounter on the main Phillipe Chatrier Court 7-6 (7/3), 6-3, 6-1 in 2hr 04min to book a meeting with Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia.
World number one Djokovic already has the Wimbledon, U.S. Open, and Australian Open crowns under wraps and a first French Open triumph in two weeks' time would make him the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the sweep.
Of the seven men to win all the four majors in their careers, only Don Budge and Laver (twice) have held all four at the same time.
Since Laver's 1969 achievement, only Pete Sampras, Federer and defending Roland Garros champion Nadal have had opportunities to complete a non-calendar year Grand Slam.
Djokovic has yet to reach a Paris final, having fallen three times at the semifinal stage - yet he insists the pressure is not on him any more than if he were not the holder of the three other Slams.
"Pressure is always present, and the way I look at it, it is a privilege and, you know, it's a challenge. I believe every professional athlete feels the pressure," the Serb insisted.
"So you need to try to understand and learn how to deal with it, and if you feel pressure, that means that you're doing something that is right.
"I'm happy to be where I am at this moment. I was always dreaming to become the world's best player."
Djokovic admitted he was aware that he can write a big page of tennis history should he win here but "it doesn't give me an extra negative pressure. I really think it's a challenge and something to embrace and to enjoy.
"As I said, I'll try to go step by step. It's really too early to talk about eventually getting my hands on the trophy, but it's definitely a goal.
"It's a two week event. Anything is possible here."
Starace, ranked 97, counts clay as his favorite surface but has never gone beyond the third round here and he was cannon fodder for Djokovic in this form.
After pushing his rival all the way in the opening set the Italian thereafter was outclassed as Djokovic banged down six aces and did the bare minimum in picking off four of 15 break chances despite finding the swirling breeze off-putting.
"Potito is a specialist on this surface but I played well considering it was the first match at this year's Roland Garros," said Djokovic, who won rousing applause for conducting his on-court interview in French - though he pointed out that "I live in Monte Carlo, and the official language there is French."
Djokovic meanwhile addressed the importance to him of his beloved late grandfather Vladimir, who died in April.
Television cameras caught the star in tears while practicing in Monte Carlo after hearing the news and the Serb explained: "When I was not with my parents, I was with him.
"I think sometimes even you have that special relationship with your grandparents more, even more than with your parents, because your parents always judge you on things, and the grandparents allow you to do anything you like...."