Sabalenka reaches French Open last 16

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PARIS: Defending champion Novak Djokovic put his recent woes behind him to claim his 93rd career victory at the French Open on Tuesday, extending his streak of first-round victories at Roland Garros to a perfect 20.

Djokovic, who is aiming for his fourth title in Paris and his 25th Grand Slam triumph, a record, beat French wildcard player Pierre-Hugues Herbert, seeded 142nd, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.

The 37-year-old, who saw his long-time rival and 14-time champion Rafael Nadal eliminated from the tournament on Monday, arrived in poor conditions.

He is without a title for the first time since 2018 and has not yet reached a final this season.

He also recently suffered misfortune when he was accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome and then developed stomach problems in Geneva.

“It was a solid performance,” said Djokovic. “I could have done better, especially on the return, but bravo to him for his good serve.”

“It’s a win in three sets, that’s what counts at the moment. I felt better compared to the last few weeks. I was focused. I gave myself courage, I’m happy with my condition.”

Djokovic, who has reached at least the quarterfinals of the French Open every year since 2010, will face 63rd seed Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena for a place in the last 32.

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, a semi-finalist in 2023, defeated Russian teenager Erika Andreeva 6-1, 6-2 in just 68 minutes under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier, while heavy rain caused a five-hour delay to matches across the grounds.

World number two Sabalenka hit 27 winners against 100th-ranked Andreeva and managed five breaks against her serve in a dominant performance.

“I try to do well on clay. The conditions here are tough, but I enjoy playing here and I just try to deliver my best tennis every time – no matter what surface,” Sabalenka said.

The Belarusian has always reached at least the semifinals in her last six Grand Slam tennis tournaments and is expected to be Iga Swiatek’s toughest competitor in the Pole’s fight for her fourth French Open title.

Andreeva’s younger sister Mirra was luckier, reaching the fourth round in 2023 as a 16-year-old.

She defeated Emina Bektas from the USA in two sets.

Two-time runner-up Casper Ruud, who won clay court titles in Barcelona and Geneva prior to Roland Garros, won comfortably 6-3, 6-4 and 6-3 over Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves.

“It’s great to be back here at Roland Garros,” he said. “Hopefully I can have another good year here.”

Ruud lost to Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s final after a one-sided loss to Nadal in the 2022 final.

The career of Frenchwoman Alize Cornet ended with a straight-set loss to Zheng Qinwen in her record-breaking 69th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.

Cornet was no match for the Chinese Australian Open runner-up Zheng, losing 6-2, 6-1.

She made her debut at Roland Garros in 2005 at the age of 15 and had not missed a Grand Slam tournament since the 2006 US Open.

Cornet reached his highest ranking to date in 2009 with 11th place and surprisingly made it to the quarterfinals of the 2022 Australian Open.

“I was already crying yesterday when I watched Rafa,” said a tearful Cornet after watching Nadal lose what was probably his last match at the French Open.

On Court Suzanne Lenglen, former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Belgian Greet Minnen.

Kazakhstani world number four Rybakina is the only player to beat Swiatek on clay this season, in the semifinals in Stuttgart in April.

There was no reason to celebrate for Argentine qualifier Roman Andres Burruchaga, for whom sporting success is in his blood.

His father Jorge scored the famous winning goal for Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.

The 22-year-old, ranked 144th, suffered a three-set defeat to the experienced German Jan-Lennard Struff.

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