Novak Djokovic rubbed his right elbow, winced a little, then hurried through a most pleasing start to his 2020 French Open campaign on Tuesday, a lion looking for mice.
His 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 deconstruction of Mikael Ymer’s eccentric but fragile game took him only an hour and 38 minutes, just short of a full‑blown mismatch but certainly an entertaining exhibition.
Djokovic remains unbeaten in 32 completed matches this year, with four titles, including an 18th grand slam championship, and can realistically contemplate dethroning Rafael Nadal in his own castle.
His was the most dominant performance of the first three days of the championship, and he said later: “Winning 6-0 first set is the best possible way to start a grand slam. This is exactly what my intentions will be, trying to get off the blocks very strong with a good intensity.”
He also put to bed the idea that his disqualification at Flushing Meadows has lingered in his thoughts. “I have not had any traces of New York in my mind. I’m over it. Honestly forgot about it. I’m not thinking about it.”
What interest there was in a foregone conclusion arrived in cameos of athleticism from Ymer, a tweener crosscourt winner leaving Djokovic smiling at the net then turning to tap his racket in recognition. He could afford to; Ymer did not get into the fight at any stage.
Ymer, a Swede of Ethiopian parents who hits with the freedom of youth, did well to take five games off the world No 1 in a match that sped past him like an autumn shower. As his contribution rose incrementally from zero in the first set, two games and then three in the third the thought occurred that, at that rate of improvement, it would have taken him maybe seven sets to force a tie-break. It was mercifully quicker than that fictional scenario.
There was a minor worry when Djokovic served a double-fault midway through the third set and began massaging his right elbow, a nagging problem in recent seasons. However, with uncanny symmetry, he started and finished his match at almost the same time as Heather Watson did hers against Fiona Ferro – with a more pleasing result for the Serb. It is fair to say Djokovic looked marginally more in control of his clay game than Nadal had done the day before.
When Djokovic beat Andy Murray in the 2016 final to become only the third player to rule all four grand slam championships simultaneously, there was no sense that his ambitions were fulfilled. He did hint in subsequent injury crises that he had considered quitting tennis but the pull is too strong and, at 33, he stands unchallenged at the summit – except at Roland Garros.
As heartily as his advocates put the case for him to unseat Nadal, it is too early in the campaign to be confident the Spaniard is ready to abdicate. Certainly, he has complained about the heavy Wilson ball, the chill and the sodden clay, although it has sounded more like self-motivation than serious analysis.
Nadal looked good in the first round seeing off Egor Gerasimov and should be way too good for Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday – unless the American can scare him the way his compatriot John Isner did here several years ago. That is highly unlikely.
Djokovic, meanwhile, will take a look at his side of the draw and see little to concern him in his quarter until, perhaps, he runs into 15th seed Karen Khachanov in the fourth round then, in all likelihood, the seventh seed Matteo Berrettini, who allowed Djokovic’s Canadian friend, Vasek Pospisil, only seven games on day three.