Paris, May 29: Novak Djokovic does not try to hide his ambitions. He makes perfectly clear that he wants to win a French Open title more than anything.
Embarking on a bid to complete a career Grand Slam and fill the only glaring hole on his resume, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic pulled out a tight first set en route to a 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-5 victory Tuesday in the first round against David Goffin, a Belgian who was the surprise of Roland Garros a year ago.
“I love this Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “I really want to do well here.”
The key moment came in the first-set tiebreaker, with the 58th-ranked Goffin serving at 5-all. After he faulted once, a fan yelled, “Allez, David!” The 22-year-old Goffin then proceeded to miss his second serve, too, for a double-fault that gave Djokovic a set point.
“That's what happens sometimes. When you play in Davis Cup, you see that on every serve, basically,” Goffin said. “Anyway, it was up to me to focus my mind. This is the type of thing that can happen and can happen to anybody. So tough luck.”
His backhand into the net then gave the set to Djokovic, who had won fewer total points until then, 39-36.
After that, though, there were not too many hiccups for Djokovic, although he did get broken at love by Goffin, evening the second set at 4-all. Djokovic broke right back and was really on his way.
In 2012, Goffin got into the French Open field as a “lucky loser”—someone who loses in qualifying but is put in the main draw because another player withdrew—and made it all the way to the fourth round. That's when he got to face Roger Federer, Goffin's idol. He even took a set off the owner of the most career major titles before losing the match.
“He has a good chance to have a good future,” Djokovic said. “He likes playing here, obviously. He likes playing on a big stage.”
Djokovic lost to seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the final a year ago in Paris. That ended Djokovic's 27-match Grand Slam winning streak and, with it, his attempt to earn a fourth consecutive major championship.
Now Djokovic—who has won the Australian Open four times, and the U.S. Open and Wimbledon once each—really would love to pick up his first trophy at Roland Garros to make a full assortment.
“This is the tournament that is the No. 1 priority of my year, of my season,” the Serb said on the eve of the French Open. “This is where I want to win, and I'm going to go for it. I think my game is there, and I'm very, very motivated.”
On Tuesday, he faced a total of only two break points, saving one, while converting 3 of 11 chances against Goffin, who displayed a beautiful touch at the net. Goffin was unafraid to move forward, something seen less and less these days, particularly on red clay.
As Goffin walked off toward the locker room after the match ended, Djokovic stopped what he was doing to join the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd in applauding.
Then it was Djokovic's turn to speak French to the fans during an interview, a post-match ritual that's become de rigueur this week. Serena Williams and Nadal did it, too (as did Federer, who has for years).
“It was a good match. I hope you enjoyed it,” Djokovic said. “It was not easy, because David is a good player with a lot of talent and a lot of aggressiveness on the court.”
The match concluded as the sun began to set on Day 3 at the tournament, where very little action took place because of rain that began in the morning.
There was a delay of more than 2½ hours before play could start, and then after only 1½ hours of action, another stop of more than an hour. Only 26 of 40 scheduled singles matches were completed, three were suspended in progress, and organizers wound up postponing others entirely. That means players such as Victoria Azarenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, will be slated for first-round action Wednesday, the fourth day of the tournament.
Those who did get to play Tuesday included 2010 French Open runner-up and 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur, who beat 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-0, 6-2.
“I was happy to get out there and start,” she said. “It was spitting a little bit when we went out there. You think, ‘Oh, are we going to start or are we not?' Lucky for me I was able to finish the match before this last downpour came.”
Another Australian, Bernard Tomic—whose father was barred from Roland Garros after being accused this month of head-butting Tomic's hitting partner—stopped because of a torn right hamstring while trailing Victor Hanescu 7-5, 7-6 (8), 2-1.
American Jack Sock, a 20-year-old qualifier ranked 118th, made a successful Roland Garros debut by beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-2, 7-5. Sock wore initials on his shoes in honor of two friends who he said recently died.
“Kind of hits you out of nowhere,” Sock said. “I was definitely thinking of them out there.”
Playing the day's last match in the main stadium, Djokovic found the footing difficult at times, owing to the showers that fell for much of the day.
“Well, it was, I think, more slippery than usual, because, okay, the conditions today were so that there was a lot of rain and interruptions. We play, stopped play, delays, and I guess it affected the condition of the court in a way,” he said.
Last week, tournament officials said they would move ahead with plans to build a retractable roof over center court, despite a judicial ruling in March that put the project on hold. The roof would be completed in 2018 as part of a $440 million renovation project at Roland Garros.
They also spoke about plans to add artificial lights so there can be matches played at night, something Djokovic is looking forward to.
In the meantime, he was pleased to get through his first match in Paris this year on what was a trying day thanks to the weather.
“We have been waiting for hours and hours. I think I warmed up five or six times today, and, you know, finally got to the court,” Djokovic said. “In these conditions ... you need to adjust your game and tactics, because it's quite different than comparing to the conditions when it's dry and sunny.”