Djokovic cruises as Zverev survives at French Open, Sakkari upset

Djokovic cruises as Zverev survives at French Open, Sakkari upset

Novak Djokovic has made the third round or better every year since his 2005 debut at Roland Garros
Novak Djokovic has made the third round or better every year since his 2005 debut at Roland Garros

PARIS: Reigning champion Novak Djokovic eased into the third round of the French Open on Wednesday and Alexander Zverev saved a match point as he recovered from two sets down, but Maria Sakkari became the fifth women's top-10 seed to exit.

Djokovic made comfortable work of Slovakia's Alex Molcan, the world number one winning 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) against a player trained by his long-time former coach Marian Vajda, the man who inspired most of his 20 Grand Slam titles.

"It was a real pleasure to play on Court Suzanne Lenglen. I don't have a lot of opportunities to play here," said Djokovic after reaching the third round for a 17th straight year.

"I could feel the support. There were tricky conditions today with a lot of wind coming in different directions.

"So I had to stay focused and stay patient."

The top seed will continue his bid for a third Roland Garros crown against Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene in the last 32.

Third seed and 2021 semi-finalist Zverev battled back from the brink against Argentina's Sebastian Baez to avoid his earliest loss at a major in three years.

Zverev overcame Baez 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 after three hours and 36 minutes. He will play Brandon Nakashima of the US for a place in the last 16.

"There's not much you can do, you just have to find a way," said Zverev, who fended off a match point as he served at 4-5 in the final set.

"The greats - Roger (Federer), Rafa (Nadal), Djokovic - always find a way in the most difficult moments."

It was the third comeback from a two-set deficit in Zverev's career. He trailed fellow German Oscar Otte 2-0 in the opening round at Roland Garros a year ago before his run to the last four.

However, Greek fourth seed Sakkari crashed out after going down 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4) to Czech world number 81 Karolina Muchova.

Sakkari was a point away from reaching the final at Roland Garros last year.

Her defeat left the women's draw without four of its top six seeds as she followed defending champion Barbora Krejcikova, Anett Kontaveit and Ons Jabeur through the exit door.

Muchova will next play 27th seed Amanda Anisimova, who made the last four in Paris three years ago.

"It's very special, she's an amazing player. It was a big fight, a little bit of a test and challenge for me and I'm happy I took it the way I did," said Muchova.

Former Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka also advanced to the third round.

Kerber, who won her first clay title in six years on the eve of the French Open, defeated French wildcard and 2020 junior champion Elsa Jacquemot 6-1, 7-6 (7/2) as she seeks the only Grand Slam missing from her collection.

The German 21st seed next plays Aliaksandra Sasnovich, the Belarusian who knocked out US Open champion Emma Raducanu 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

"I think the last week was really important for me to get the title," former number one Kerber said of her Strasbourg triumph.

"I had a lot of confidence. It's great to be back here and I hope I can still play a few more matches."

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner, beat 2014 Roland Garros semi-finalist Andrea Petkovic 6-1, 7-6 (7/3). She meets Swiss 23rd seed Jil Teichmann for a place in the fourth round.

Chasing a 14th French Open title, Rafael Nadal goes up against French wildcard Corentin Moutet in the evening session. Moutet knocked out 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in round one.

Nadal began the year with a 20-match winning run, capturing a second Australian Open title to claim a record 21st Grand Slam and move ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer.

The 35-year-old's record at the French Open stands at a staggering 106 wins and just three losses since his 2005 title-winning debut, but he is without a title on clay this season after dealing with rib and foot injuries.

Carlos Alcaraz, 19, is attempting to become just the eighth teenager to capture a major men's title, and widely tipped to break the stranglehold of Djokovic and Nadal.

Alcaraz, the tour's dominant player in 2022 with a season-leading four titles, faces fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas for a place in the last 32.

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