No sweat for Agassi-aided Novak

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-31 07:08

Andre's input might be minimal, but defending champion is listening

PARIS - If Novak Djokovic was hoping to take a little pressure and attention off himself after some rough results, he might very well have found the perfect way to do that by enlisting Andre Agassi as a coaching consultant for the French Open.

Well, for up to a week of the tournament, anyway.

With Agassi seated in the stands, generally expressionless during the match and silent afterward, No 2 seed Djokovic was not always at his clean-swinging best while beating Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on Monday to open defense of the title that allowed him to complete a career grand slam at Roland Garros a year ago.

"I mean, it's hard to say whether there is significant difference on the court, because it's only a few days that we are together," Djokovic said. "So it's going to take a little bit of time.

"I'm patient and, for us, this is a great way to start our collaboration and friendship and get to know each other and then see where it takes us."

On a relatively quiet second day of competition, Rafa Nadal started his pursuit of a record 10th French Open title with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Benoit Paire. Other seeded men advancing included No 5 Milos Raonic, No 7 Marin Cilic and No 10 David Goffin, while No 14 Jack Sock, the top-ranked US man, and No 31 Gilles Simon - both in Nadal's section of the draw - plus No 32 Mischa Zverev all lost.

Defending women's champion Garbine Muguruza and former No 1 Caroline Wozniacki won in straight sets, but two seeded American women joined Sock on the way out: No 19 Coco Vandeweghe and No 25 Lauren Davis.

Despite his straightforward victory, No 4 seed Nadal lamented a portion of his performance.

"For me, it's important to serve a little bit better than what I did today," said the Spaniard.

Djokovic made it sound as if Agassi's role is more about offering life advice than tennis tips.

Sunglasses perched atop his shaved pate, leaning forward with his chin on his hands and elbows on his knees, Agassi occasionally applauded during the 2?-hour first-round match.

Later, Agassi - who counts the 1999 French Open among his eight Grand Slam titles - declined to take questions.

Djokovic, for his part, had plenty to say about their partnership, which sounds more like a brief experiment than the start of a long-term arrangement, even if that's what the Serb insisted he hopes it can become.

"Well, he's going to stay ... I hope until the end of this week. Then he has to leave because he has some things that he cannot reschedule. So that's all," said Djokovic, who had 29 unforced errors, one more than Granollers.

"I'm going to try to use the time spent with him as best as I can, as best as we can. So far, plenty of information, plenty of things to kind of process."

A year ago, when Djokovic finally fulfilled his quest to win a trophy in Paris, he was working with Boris Becker - who was at Roland Garros on Monday - and Marian Vajda. But Djokovic split with those coaches, as well as other members of his entourage, hoping to regain the groove that made him the first man in nearly a half-century to win four consecutive majors.

Since then, though, the highlight for Djokovic was a runner-up finish at the US Open. He lost his No 1 ranking to Andy Murray and lost in the third round of Wimbledon, the first round of the Rio Olympics and the second round of the Australian Open.

"You're developed to kind of flip the next page very quickly," Djokovic added. "Whether or not you win or lose in a big tournament, there is another big one coming up in a matter of weeks' time or even less.

"The way I felt at the end of last season was really strange because I always, even when I would face that before in my career, I felt that I would overcome it very quickly."

This time, he acknowledged, that didn't happen.

"I had to work harder," the 30-year-old said.

And he opted to make changes.

Associated Press

No sweat for Agassi-aided Novak

Novak Djokovic enlists the ball boys in his post-match celebration after defeating Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the French Open on Monday. Christophe Ena / Ap

(China Daily 05/31/2017 page24)

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