French Open: Defending champion Novak Djokovic battles into the second round

Novak Djokovic began the defense of his French Open crown with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over the Spaniard Marcel Granollers in the first round.

The Serb, stepping onto the court for the first time under the tutelage of Andre Agassi, needed two hours and 27 minutes to dispatch the world number 77 at the site of his historic triumph twelve months ago.

Twelve breaks of serve were traded during the three-set contest before he induced a long return from Granollers that sealed his place in the second round.

He will face Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the next round.

The Spaniard was defending a fourth round performance in Paris but his paltry 3-13 record in 2017 ought to have encouraged an improving Djokovic before the pair stepped onto the court.

The Serb was beginning to show signs of his previous, domineering self during his run to the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final two weeks ago before announcing the news of Agassi’s arrival.

Fast start

And Djokovic was quick out of the blocks on Court Phillipe Chatrier, winning seven of the first nine points as he broke Granollers for 2-0 to open the contest.

The Spaniard recovered the break soon after and he was making a mockery of the statistic that highlighted his sole victory on clay this year – against Malek Jaziri – during the opening frame.

The Serb restored his advantage by breaking with an overhead smash and consolidating for a 4-1 lead but when Granollers was landing first serves he was proving more than a match for the world number two.

The first set elapsed in a little under 45 minutes before the Spaniard’s concentration dipped to surrender his serve in the opening game of set two.

A double break soon followed and, from there, it appeared Djokovic would coast towards the finish line.

Yet the 31-year-old made a fist of it, recovering one of the breaks before the Serb smashed a ball into the net in frustration. Agassi, stone-faced and almost Ivan Lendl-like, did not blink.

Granollers would hold to 15 to sustain at least slight pressure on the reigning champion before Djokovic brought up 5-3.

Djokovic connects with a forehand during his round one match (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe)

Pride restored

Such was the fighting spirit of the Spaniard that he staved off eight set points in a 14 minute service game to force the 30-year-old to serve out the second set.

He duly did and after 53 minutes Djokovic had one foot in the next round.

And in similar fashion to the previous frame, Granollers was caught napping in his opening service game.

Three break points were swiftly fashioned before the Spaniard sent an arcing forehand high and long.

Although he leveled terms in the next game, he gifted Djokovic a 3-1 advantage in a game that contained one of the points of the opening round.

The Serb’s dropshot barely cleared the net before Granollers went around the net pole to scoop a shot just inside of the sideline that drew a fitting high five at the net between the two players.

But that would be the last memory for the Spaniard who dropped serve once more to confirm Djokovic’s place in the second round.