French Open: Djokovic d. Kavcic

by: Dan Markowitz | May 30, 2012

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201205300658251171416-p2@stats.comWhen Novak Djokovic powered through a shutout first set in 23 minutes, it looked like the top seed would be in for an easy morning. But just as Potito Starace extended Djokovic in the first round, Blaz Kavcic made the world No. 1 work for his win before moving into the third round to the tune of 6-0, 6-4, 6-4.

Djokovic has been sharp, but not nearly as dominant as he was in the first week of the Australian Open, where he marched through the first three rounds losing only ten games. Facing two players ranked in the 90's, Djokovic has already lost 18 games through two rounds at Roland Garros.

Djokovic is 62-2 when facing players ranked outside the Top 50 in Slams (losing only to Paul Goldstein and Marat Safin in the 2006 Australian Open and 2008 Wimbledon tournaments, respectively), and in the first set, the Serb looked far too good for Kavcic to put up any resistance. Taking second serves inside the baseline, Djokovic repeatedly drilled return winners off both sides. Taking easy cuts at his forehand from the baseline, Djokovic's shots blazed by his out-classed opponent. Brad Gilbert, announcing the match on ESPN2, was so impressed he was already talking about Djokovic winning the French Open crown.

"If Djokovic pulls off the Nole Slam," said Gilbert, "it puts him in Rafa's class. To do it while the other top two guys are still playing well...I didn't see it coming."

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Kavcic, who only broke into the Top 100 for the first time last year, started to add a little more loop to his forehand, and he broke Djokovic in the third game of the second set. Up 3-1, the Slovenian had a chance to go up a double break, but couldn't convert on his break point. Still up 4-2, Kavcic couldn't keep Djokovic at bay. The top seed pounced and broke Kavcic in his next two service games to take the second set.

Whether the match became far more competitive due to lapses of concentration in Djokovic's armor or Kavcic raising his game, Djokovic was suddenly pressing. His forehand in particular was missing the mark more than usual. But while Djokovic bends, he rarely breaks. His serve has been potent and extremely reliable in his first two matches. Today, he recorded five aces to only one double fault, and Kavcic only had three break point chances.

Djokovic's backhand, whether driving it down the line or taking his left hand off for a deft drop shot, is particularly compelling. Still, Kavcic was now hitting toe-to-toe with Djokovic. At 2-3 in the third set, Djokovic missed a second serve backhand return long and Kavcic held. Up 0-15 in the ensuing game, Kavcic won the point of the match when he first chased down a dropper, then retrieved a top-spin lob before hammering Djokovic's weak overhead for a cross-court forehand winner. But at 0-30, Kavcic shoveled another Djokovic drop shot into the net and gave up his best shot to take the lead.

Two games later, Djokovic broke Kavcic (not an easy feat for the Serb after the first set, when he converted on only three of 12 chances) and sealed up a solid but sloppy win. Djokovic struck 13 more unforced errors than his unheralded rival, 34 to 21, but comfortably hit many more winners, 41 to 17.

Djokovic has been tested in the first two rounds, but he is moving well, playing the aggressor, and marching through his out-gunned opponents. Djokovic's next opponent, either Nicolas Devilder or Michael Berrer, will probably provide an easier match than both Starace and Kavcic.

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