Tim Henman wondered if Novak Djokovic’s “pumped-up” start to the French Open showed his determination to win the tournament after missing out on playing the Australian Open.
World No. 1 Djokovic was deported from Australia ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year as he is unvaccinated against Covid-19. In his absence, long-time rival Rafael Nadal won in Melbourne to clinch a record 21st Grand Slam title.
Djokovic now has the chance to move level with Nadal if he wins again in Paris.
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He started the defence of his title with a routine win over Yoshihito Nishioka that featured several fist pumps and some full-throttle roars of delight which were booed by the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“His performance was one thing, his ball striking, the consistency on serve, but I was surprised by his attitude, he was so pumped up,” said former British No. 1 Henman on Eurosport.
“There was a lot of fist pumping, the screaming and shouting out, for a first-round match at a Grand Slam, for someone who has won 20 of them, is that a reflection of what happened in Australia where he didn’t get the opportunity? This is his next opportunity to get to 21 and he is so pumped up.
“You saw from the word go he was so motivated, focused and fired up, ready to get the job done and that’s what he did. He is trending in the right direction.
“He is maybe a little bit underdone but getting the victory in Rome and to come here and make a little bit of a statement.
"Some of the other top players got off to good starts and Djokovic would have been aware of that, you saw all aspects of his game, his movement, his game, his touch, it really was a complete performance. He steamrolled Nishioka.”
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Djokovic is a two-time champion in Paris and will next face Alex Molcan or Federico Coria.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander says Djokovic looks a far cry from the player that started the clay season with defeat to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters.
“You can see he is getting smarter as a tennis player, playing tactically more correct depending on his age, I think he is looking really good," said Wilander.
“I can’t believe he is playing at this level after what I saw in Monte Carlo against Davidovich Fokina, incredible difference.”
Wilander also thinks the addition of night sessions is a “big advantage” to Djokovic.
“He is going to be playing a lot of big matches at night and I don’t think it matters to him as much as it matters to Rafael Nadal, maybe [Carlos] Alcaraz is going to handle any kind of conditions, but I can’t put him at the level as Novak and Rafa so far, I need to see him win three or four more matches.
“Watching these guys, the focus and the intensity… I cannot understand how they keep the fire going.”
‘Are you kidding me?’ – Djokovic booed for celebrating wildly
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