Novak Djokovic begins his bid for a 25th Grand Slam title with a first-round French Open win (2024)

PARIS (AP) — Ignore the straight-set score: Novak Djokovic was not quite at his impervious best in the first round of the French Open on Tuesday night, and his 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert was not enough to alter the defending champion’s “low expectations” at this tournament.

“I don’t want to get too excited,” Djokovic said. “I thought it was a good performance for me. Solid. Of course, I could have done better, I think, on return games, but also credit to him for serving very well, for changing things up.”

It’s been a rougher-than-usual season so far for Djokovic, and while there were some signs of breaking out of his 2024 funk during the course of the contest at Court Philippe Chatrier, he still has room for improvement as he attempts to become the first player in tennis history to claim 25 Grand Slam singles trophies. There’s no doubt he cares about such things.

“Grand Slams are the ones that are basically getting me up from the bed every day. Knowing that I have to hit the practice courts, I always think about what I can do in Grand Slams,” he said. “So here I am. Hopefully I can have another deep run.”

That’s what Herbert expected to see.

“I knew, from the beginning,” Herbert said, “that I’m going to have in front of me the ‘Novak of the Grand Slams.’ … It’s just the intensity of concentration.”

Djokovic is a three-time title winner at Roland Garros who needs to return to the final to retain his No. 1 ranking. But he arrived in Paris without having done that at any tournament this year. He is 0-3 in semifinals — including a loss last week at the lower-tier Geneva Open on red clay — and this victory across 2 1/2 hours only served to make his overall record 15-6.

So when he spoke at a news conference on Sunday, Djokovic described his mindset heading into the French Open this way: “Low expectations and high hopes.” Then he pointed out, “Anything but a title, for me, is not satisfactory,” which is understandable given his remarkable resume.

“In the moments when it mattered, I think I delivered. Played a great tiebreak. Stayed focused,” Djokovic said about Tuesday’s performance. “I’m glad that I started the way I started, the way I felt on the court. Comparing to the previous weeks of tournaments I played, I felt good. Better. So I’m moving in a positive direction. Yeah, it’s just the beginning.”

He seemed a bit edgy at moments against Herbert, a 33-year-old Frenchman who owns a career Grand Slam in doubles but never has been past the third round at any major in singles and is currently ranked 142nd.

The home crowd tried to push Herbert, repeatedly calling out his name, even imploring him in English at one point by chanting, “Let’s go, Pierre-Hugues! Let’s go!” They jeered Djokovic late in the third set when he went to the sideline to towel off after he slipped, stumbled and tumbled onto the clay chasing a ball.

A day after sitting in the Chatrier stands to watch rival Rafael Nadal’s first-round loss against Alexander Zverev, Djokovic was competing in the chill of a 60-degree evening (15 Celsius), and he did not always look happy. He rolled his head back after one miss while making four groundstroke mistakes to get broken early in the second set. He repeatedly gestured to ballkids to give him tennis balls so he could prepare to serve.

Although Herbert’s game did not demand a maximum expenditure of energy from Djokovic, there certainly was enough to keep things interesting. And by the end, the winner totals were 37 for Herbert, 29 for Djokovic.

There were some strokes of brilliance from Djokovic, to be sure, and he covered the court well when sprinting after the drop shots Herbert kept trying. The highlight for Djokovic was probably the closed-stance sliding backhand winner that earned him a match point — which was converted when Herbert double-faulted to end it.

Still, the statistic that truly mattered was the one that shows Djokovic is now 69-0 in opening matches at Slam events since starting his career with a 3-2 mark in first-rounders.

Djokovic’s second-round opponent will be 63rd-ranked Roberto Carballés Baena of Spain.

The first round closed on a day during which rain delayed play for several hours early in the day on all but the two principal courts, which are outfitted with retractable roofs.

Other winners Tuesday included the man Djokovic beat in last year’s French Open final, Casper Ruud, and past major champions Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

Ruud, who also was the runner-up to Nadal in Paris in 2022 and leads the ATP with 36 wins in 2024, beat Felipe Meligeni Alves 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

Two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka overpowered Erika Andreeva 6-1, 6-2, and 2022 Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina beat Greet Minnen 6-2, 6-3.

Sabalenka is trying to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to win the Australian Open and Roland Garros in the same season and get halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam.

“I’m just trying to separate myself from all those facts,” said Sabalenka, who is No. 2 in the rankings behind Iga Swiatek. “I mean, I know that if I’ll be able to focus on myself and I’ll be able to fight for every point and try to find a solution in each game, I will be able to win these big tournaments. But I just try to take it step-by-step.”


Associated Press Writer Tom Nouvian contributed to this report.


AP tennis:

Novak Djokovic begins his bid for a 25th Grand Slam title with a first-round French Open win (2024)


What was the first Grand Slam title that Novak Djokovic won in his career? ›

Djokovic's hot play continued into 2008 as he won his first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, thereby becoming the first Serbian man to win one of tennis's four most prestigious singles championships.

How rich is Novak Djokovic? ›

Djokovic's estimated fortune of $240 million places him third in the list of the richest tennis players in history. The only players to have earned more are Roger Federer ($550 million) and Serena Williams ($300 million). The next richest player is Raphael Nadal, with a fortune of around $220 million.

Is the French Open a Grand Slam? ›

Roland Garros was the first Grand Slam tournament to join the "Open" era in 1968, and since then many tennis greats have graced the famous clay courts, including Björn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Gustavo Kuerten, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Does Djokovic have a child? ›

The tennis star is a father of two children, son Stefan Djokovic and daughter Tara Djokovic, who he shares with wife Jelena. The couple, who were high school sweethearts, got married in 2014, and welcomed their son Stefan in October that year.

How many Grand Slam finals has Djokovic lost? ›

Novak Djokovic career statistics
Career finals
Grand Slam12
ATP Finals2
14 more rows

What is the Grand Slam title in tennis? ›

The Grand Slam in tennis is the achievement of winning all four major championships in one discipline in a calendar year. In doubles, a Grand Slam may be achieved as a team or as an individual with different partners.

What does Novak Djokovic spend his money on? ›

With that money, he enjoys a luxurious lifestyle, with homes in Monte Carlo, New York, and Miami, though he and his wife, Jelena, are also charitable. This story is available exclusively to Business Insider subscribers. Become an Insider and start reading now. Have an account?

How rich is Rafael Nadal? ›

Rafael Nadal's earnings are estimated to be around $134.6 million, only second in the world to Novak Djokovic. Forbes estimated Nadal has made $500 million throughout his career before taxes. In 2022, Nadal was ranked the fourth highest-earning tennis player, bringing in a total of $31.4 million that year.

How much money has Djokovic won in total? ›

Novak Djokovic
Prize moneyUS$182,043,906 (All-time leader in earnings)
Career record1101–219 (83.4%)
Career titles98 (3rd in the Open Era)
46 more rows

Has any tennis player won all four majors? ›

In a calendar year, Donald Budge achieved this feat of winning all 4 grand slams in 1938. Then, Rod Laver achieved this feat twice, once in 1962 as an amateur and again in 1969 as a professional. Now, in contemporary tennis, Novak Djokovic has won all 4 continuously, but not in a calendar year.

Has Nadal ever missed the French Open? ›

The 37-year-old indicated when he missed last year's French Open that the 2024 season could be his final one on tour. He has also said he does not know if this will be his final time at the clay-court major - but it remains a "big chance" it will be.

Who has won the most French Open titles? ›

Nada's most iconic record is his propensity to win while playing on clay courts. This skill and preference has won him 14 French Opens, a ridiculous number when compared to other players.

Does Djokovic eat meat? ›

What does Novak Djokovic eat? Vegetables, beans, white meat, fish, fruit, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, lentils and healthy oils are the main staples of Djokovic's meal-times, with his day starting with a glass of warm water and lemon, citing that it 'helps his body detoxify'.

Is Novak Djokovic vegan? ›

Djokovic has said that he avoids animal foods, but he has previously distanced himself from the term 'vegan', as he believes many people are guilty of misinterpreting the word. In a 2022 interview, Djokovic stated that he cut out animal products after suffering from allergies since he was a child.

Who are the wealthiest tennis players? ›

Male tennis players with the highest career earnings as of February 2024 (in million U.S. dollars)
CharacteristicPrize money earned in million U.S. dollars
Novak Djokovic181.6
Rafael Nadal134.66
Roger Federer130.59
Andy Murray64.35
6 more rows
Feb 21, 2024

When did Nadal win his first Grand Slam title? ›

In which year did Rafael Nadal win his first Grand Slam title? Rafael Nadal won his first Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2005. He was just 19 years old at the time, making him one of the youngest players to win a Grand Slam title.

When did Andy Murray win his first Grand Slam title? ›

Murray's victory over Djokovic at the 2012 US Open saw him become the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title since Fred Perry in 1936. A year later, he bore the immense weight of expectation to beat Djokovic again and claim his first Wimbledon title before regaining the crown in 2016.

When did Novak Djokovic turn pro? ›

In singles, he is the only man to achieve a triple Career Grand Slam, and the only player to complete a career Golden Masters, a feat he has achieved twice. Last updated on: 22 April 2024. Djokovic began his professional career in 2003.

How many French Open titles does Novak Djokovic have? ›

Why you should back Djokovic. The World No. 1 is a three-time French Open champion, winning titles in 2016, 2021 and 2023. He has won 85% of his matches at Roland Garros, and he has picked up a pair of 3-0 wins to open his 2024 French Open campaign.

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