ATP

Djokovic survives scare to overcome Van Assche at Srpska Open

By Sports Desk April 19, 2023

Novak Djokovic was forced to come from a set down to beat Luca Van Assche 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-2 in the Srpska Open second round on Wednesday.

Teenager Van Assche took a big step towards a stunning victory after going a set ahead, but the world number one rallied to seal his progression against the stubborn Frenchman.

Djokovic, who admitted his right elbow "was not in an ideal condition" earlier this week after a shock exit at the Monte Carlo Masters, was not at his brilliant self as Van Assche took the first set by finding two crucial breaks in the tie-break.

The Serbian improved, though, and he dominated the second set by holding all five of his service games and breaking twice to take the match to a decider.

With the first two games of the final set going against serve, Djokovic took over to win four of the next six and secure a comeback triumph.

Just over a month ahead of the French Open, Djokovic will be glad to have battled to victory in Banja Luka as he prepares for an attempt to win a record 23rd grand slam title at Roland Garros having already claimed the Australian Open crown earlier this year.

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    There were 27 winners from Sabalenka and just nine from Andreeva, who only showed the briefest resistance with a sole break early in the second set.

    But strong favourite Sabalenka, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year, made an instant response by breaking back, ultimately winning five of the final six games to ruthlessly close out the victory.

    She will play a qualifier – either Irene Burillo Escorihuela or Moyuka Uchijima – in the next round of the competition.

    Data Debrief: Sabalenka extends first-round streak

    Sabalenka has now won each of her last 15 first-round matches at grand slam tournaments, not suffering defeat at the first hurdle since a clash against Carla Suarez Navarro at the Australian Open in January 2020. 

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    Sabalenka will continue her bid to become the first female player to win both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in a calendar year since Serena Williams in 2015. Her record on clay this season is now improved to a healthy 12-3.

    Andreeva, meanwhile, was always likely to find the going tough and won just eight of her 23 points on first serve as she was broken five times across the contest. The 19-year-old is yet to reach a grand slam second round.

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  • Djokovic decline began some time ago, claims Simon Djokovic decline began some time ago, claims Simon

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    He begins his Roland-Garros campaign against Pierre-Hugues Herbert on Tuesday.

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    Simon said: "You are in a very short media window and it is amazing how things change. Last year when he lost [the Wimbledon final to Carlos Alcaraz], I said that for me, he had one year left.

    "It's more a question of age, there's a break around 37 or 38, when it gets tough. He was playing well last year, he won three grand slams, but I've seen him drop for a while now.

    "For me, there were already signs on the court that he's dropping, but he was and still is completely capable of having a great 2024 season. 

    "I have more doubts about the 2025 season, and I already had some last year, above all linked to the physical aspect."

    Despite a difficult few months, Simon has no doubt that Djokovic – who is 14-5 for 2024 – can still put himself in contention for silverware. 

    "Now he's in a slump, so everyone wants to bury him, but he's still capable of playing very well," he continued. 

    "Last year it was [seen as] shameful to say that he was starting to drop, with people saying, 'You're talking rubbish, he's won three grand slams'.

    "If I say now that he's playing well, they'll tell me he's finished, that he lost again in Geneva. Take it easy! We're not going to bury him. Nobody's going to bury Novak and he is still capable of great things.

    "On the other hand, he's like everyone else. He's reaching an age where players like [Rafael] Nadal before him or like [Roger] Federer before him have dropped."

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