Djokovic skips past Nishioka in Chatrier night session

 - Stephanie Livaudais

World No.1 has never lost in the first round of RG, an 18-0 streak he extended in emphatic style on Monday

Novak Djokovic, 1er tour, Roland-Garros 2022© Remy Chautard/FFT

Defending champion Novak Djokovic started his Roland-Garros campaign the way he normally finishes it: by facing a lefty on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

But he was simply a class above world No.99 Yoshihito Nishioka across three sets on Monday. 

Once Djokovic, newly turned 35, shook off the cobwebs there was little the Japanese player could do to halt the world No.1 as he raced to a 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 win.

Story of the match

The 26-year-old Nishioka came out swinging from the very first point, targeting a confidence-boosting opening break and early advantage against Djokovic. But maintaining that high level against the defending champion was always going to be a challenge, and it took only a few games for the cracks to show in the Japanese’s game.

Everything Nishioka did, Djokovic responded to just a little bit better, faster and sharper.

Nishioka created three break opportunities in Djokovic’s lengthy opening service game, with the Serbian player needing a few points to settle into the contest. Once he found his footing, Djokovic quickly diffused the threat to hold on.

Djokovic, who rarely lets an attackable second serve go unpunished, soon honed in on Nishioka’s vulnerable second delivery. He bossed the returns of serve, and was rewarded with an under-pressure double fault from Nishioka to go ahead 4-2.

Novak Djokovic, 1er tour, Roland-Garros 2022©Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Nishioka took the ball early and tried to go for his shots, but Djokovic never let him find his rhythm, and the top seed’s court-coverage often left him swinging wildly and racking up unforced errors.

By the time he finally earned his first break of the Djokovic serve, he was already down a set and 5-0; his downcast body language said everything that Djokovic needed to know about his self-belief.

Djokovic snuffed out even that bit of hope and did so in the most frustrating way, feathering a drop shot winner that floated over the net just so, earning a break point. When Nishioka employed his own drop shot in response, he ended up burying it into the net to hand the Serbian the second set.

From there, it was one-way traffic for the defending champion, who reeled off the next six games and brushed off the only break point he faced as he booked a place in the second round, where he faces Alex Molcan or Federico Coria.

Novak Djokovic, Yoshihito Nishioka, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Remy Chautard/FFT

Key stats

While Djokovic improved as the match went on, Nishioka struggled to find anything to damage him with.

The Serbian took command of the match with his big serve, firing nine aces and winning 73% (44/60) of points behind his first serve. He used it with particularly good effect against 170 cm Nishioka, who was forced to choose whether to stand metres behind the baseline to handle his opponent’s first serve — thus neutralising his ability to attack — or stand right on top of the baseline, forcing him to frequently make contact with the ball above his own head. 

The result was a Nishioka that was constantly under pressure, and of the 18 break points he faced, he saved 10; not nearly enough to rattle Djokovic.

But battling Djokovic from the ground was not a fruitful endeavor either: both players would end the match with the same unforced error count of 32, but while Djokovic kept a positive differential with 35 winners, he also kept Nishioka contained to 17 winners of his own.

What the players said

Novak Djokovic: “I think he has to be pleased with the start of the match, until I really got used to and kind of adapted to his game.

“He's very quick, one of the quickest players on the tour, and the conditions were quite slow, the ball was not bouncing. And it was just difficult to penetrate, and so the first set was very close. I cruised through the second and third really, when I started going through the ball a bit more. I have to be pleased overall.

“Of course, I always expect highs from myself, so I can always do better, but it was a very good start to the tournament.”