Djokovic ties Federer with dominant 70th win

Serb's clay-court credentials on show in second-round dismissal of Berankis

Novak Djokovic, Roland-Garros 2020, second round©Cédric Lecocq / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Novak Djokovic is never in danger of being saddled with “the under-achiever” tag in any aspect of his day job.

Even competing in the era of a 12-time Roland-Garros champion – the most dominant on any one surface – the Serb’s numbers on the red dirt are too often overshadowed and underappreciated.

That is how the narrative rolls when a player reigns as forcefully as Rafael Nadal on clay and when Djokovic – with a lone trophy from Roland-Garros –  is busy racking up his hefty share of records elsewhere.

Roger Federer can certainly empathise.

On Thursday, Djokovic drew level with his great Swiss rival on 70 match-wins at Roland-Garros – the only two players to win 70 or more at all four Grand Slams.

His 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 clobbering of Lithuanian former junior world No.1, Ricardas Berankis, left him second only to Nadal’s 95 victories, and counting, at Roland-Garros in the Open Era.

Even the event’s second-most prolific champion, Bjorn Borg, never notched as many – not that the Swede would trade any one of his six Coupe des Mousquetaires to climb that list.

“Of course, winning that many matches on each Slam is a great achievement, and of course it makes me proud, makes me happy,” Djokovic said. “I always aim to play my best tennis in Grand Slams. I think Federer, Nadal, the biggest players in the last 10, 15 years, aim to always play their best in Slams.

“Over the two weeks it takes a lot of energy and effort to invest into winning a Grand Slam. Obviously, those records are great. I mean, they don't… determine my day in terms of how I feel on the court, if I broke the record for most matches won on slam or not, but of course it's nice to hear.

"It's kind of a confirmation for me that I have been able to play my best tennis throughout my career on the biggest tournaments.”

The nuggety Berankis – built like an old-school rugby scrum half – would had to have been at his fleet-footed finest to open passages of play against the No.1 seed on Thursday.

And he arrived with ample insight into what he was up against with his coach being Djokovic’s good friend and former Davis Cup team-mate, Janko Tipsarevic.

A back ailment and a rampaging 33-year-old in red – the man considered to have the most responsive set of wheels in the business – put paid to any chance of that upset.

Berankis became Djokovic’s second victim in as many rounds to salvage only five games, the same number he managed in their only previous Grand Slam meeting at the 2013 US Open.

It was an outing, which Djokovic dominated on serve – a 95 per cent success rate on first-serve points – comfortably wrapped up in just 83 minutes on his 10th ace.

The world No.1 now stands to pull clear of Federer when he meets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galan next.

“It's always dangerous facing opponents you never face before,” Djokovic said. “On the big stadium they can really relax and play their best tennis of their lives or it can go a different way. I have to be alert and prepare myself well.”

The Serb's resume on clay outside the French capital is mighty impressive. He added a record 36th Masters 1000 title in Rome leading in, his 15th on clay from 81 career titles. Ten of those Masters titles have been on the red dirt – five in Rome, three in Madrid and two in Monte-Carlo. Nadal leads his clay-court head-to-head with Djokovic 17-7, however they have split their 10 meetings on the surface since 2013.

Still, Roland-Garros trophies stand clear as the benchmark of success on the terre battue and while 11 shy of Nadal in that category, the Serb is one of only two men to have defeated the Spaniard in Paris.

While grateful to notch 70 wins, only one number matters to the world No.1 this fortnight – Coupe des Mousquetaires No.2.