Shades of 2016 as Djokovic bursts out the blocks

 - Alex Sharp

The world No.1 roared through his opening encounter of Roland-Garros 2020 in straight sets facing Mikael Ymer.

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

World No.1 Novak Djokovic has enjoyed some pretty spectacular seasons throughout his trophy-laden career.

It's not quite enough to have 17 Grand Slams next to his name. He wants to be THE greatest.

Djokovic is hiding nothing, openly chasing down Roger Federer’s (20) and Rafael Nadal’s (19) major haul.

The Serbian missed a glorious chance in New York, with both his ‘Big Three’ rivals absent, Djokovic was defaulted in the fourth round. It was a worldwide story, the 33-year-old exiting Flushing Meadows having fired a ball inadvertently at a line judge.  

“I have not had any traces of New York in my mind. I'm over it,” he said as he seamlessly returned to action as champion in Rome.

Now at Roland-Garros, the top seed has taken to court in a similar sequence of dominance reminiscent of his title triumph on Court Philippe-Chatrier four years ago.

“2016 was a dream come true. Obviously the only French Open title I have won in my career, and it was a very long anticipated title,” said Djokovic.

“For years I didn't manage to make that last step and fell in the last hurdle for probably two, three finals before that. So, it was very satisfying moment, the one that I definitely carry very deep in my heart.”

The symmetry with 2016 is a factor Djokovic hopes can fuel his title pursuit in Paris.

For example, in 2016 he began his season by prevailing past Nadal in the Doha final. In 2020, he was the talisman to guide Serbia to inaugural ATP Cup glory by, you guessed it, defeating Nadal in the final. 

The world No.1 was in exhilarating form in both seasons to rule Melbourne Park, lifting the Australian Open trophy.

In both years he arrived at Roland-Garros clutching a clay-court trophy, Madrid (2016) and Rome (2020).

Even the match wins tally up some familiarity: 32-1 this season versus the 36-3 of four years ago.

“Every year is different obviously. You are a different person and different player, even though a lot of things seem similar,” mused Djokovic. 

“I keep on coming back here hoping that it's going to be another success and that I'll be able to fight for the trophy, of course. If that's not the case, if I don't have that kind of motivation and goal, I wouldn't be here, trust me. I have only the highest goals and I work towards them.” 

The top seed, currently on 287 total weeks at No.1, is also honing in on Federer’s record 310 weeks at the summit.  

Playing with such crushing consistency it seems incrementally in reach. Another goal for Djokovic with such burgeoning belief.

“I am definitely very confident. I won every match that I played this year except obviously the one in New York where I was disqualified," he said. "If you keep on winning, obviously with every match that you win your confidence level raises a notch higher.”

Back to the symmetry, Djokovic opened his Roland-Garros 2016 account by surrendering just six games to then world No.95 Yen-Hsun Lu. Fast forward four years under the roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier and the Serbian relinquished a stingy six games.

With just 20 minutes on the clock the top seed soared to a 6-0 opener facing world No.80 Mikael Ymer. The Swede didn’t wilt and produced a stunning tweener passing shot in the second set, which drew applause from over the net.

However, Djokovic was in no mood to hang around and motored to a 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 scoreline and into the second round. 

“I thought I started off extremely well, winning 6-0 first set is the best possible way to start a Grand Slam. This is exactly what my intentions will be, trying to get off the blocks very strong with a good intensity,” he added.

“I actually enjoyed myself on the court today. I think I played really well. A few hiccups here and there, but I think generally the game is there. I'm ready physically, mentally, emotionally to go deep in the tournament. Hopefully I can have another successful year here in Paris.”

There was certainly a 2016 feel to Djokovic’s devastating start.