Djokovic v Molcan: Things we learned

World No.1 surges into third round for the 17th time at Roland-Garros

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2022, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

For a player who has accumulated 20 Grand Slam titles during his trophy-laden career, it’s unsurprising that Novak Djokovic is an expert at building momentum at the majors.

Just four games relinquished in the first round, the world No.1 was similarly dominant on Wednesday until a tense finale briefly slowed him down en route to a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(4) win against Slovakian Alex Molcan on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Here’s what we learned from the reigning champion’s progress into the third round.

Even a former coach can’t derail the defending champ

Prior to this match, Djokovic admitted he was uncomfortable with the intriguing coaching dynamic for this clash.

World No.38 Molcan recently enlisted Marian Vajda to his team. You’ll recognise the name because he was an integral coaching component for the majority of Djokovic’s Grand Slam glory.

They parted ways amicably in March and the top seed said it “wasn’t easy” to imagine Vajda in the opposite box.

Molcan gave it his all, but Vajda’s reservoir of knowledge on Djokovic couldn’t quite conjure up a comeback, before the Serbian paid tribute to his former coach.

“I have a lot of respect for Alex, who is a specialist on clay,” said Djokovic, who takes on Aljaz Bedene in the third round. “I hope this is the first and last time I have played against an opponent coached by Marian Vajda.”

Consistently a major player in Paris

Across different continents, courts and seasons, Djokovic’s longevity and success is simply mind-boggling.

Built from authoritative play in the opening two sets, the 35-year-old posted his seventh successive victory on clay and ninth in a row at Roland-Garros.

The defending champion moved his total of Roland-Garros wins to 83, his best at any major, ahead of Australian Open (82), US Open (81) and Wimbledon (79).

A defiant Djokovic, so comfortable on these courts, is going to take some stopping!

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2022, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Master in close quarters

Djokovic grew up with time on the ski slopes and his elasticity is evident in his supreme court coverage.

On several occasions the top seed chased down Molcan drop shots to clip the ball past or over the Slovakian.

One example came with the scoreboard locked at 2-2 in the finely-poised third set. A Molcan shot popped very short off the net tape and from well behind the baseline, Djokovic managed to lightning bolt forward and angle an acute forehand winner past the world No.38.

The stats also highlight his exceptional efficiency heading forward. He had a 23/32 success rate at the net along with 12 drop shots and 12 lobs, which were both frequently struck from close quarters.

The feel, the touch were of the highest order.

Novak Djokovic, 2e tour, Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Molcan here to stay

With Vajda in his camp, Molcan will continue to build his all-court artillery.

The 24-year-old, who has reached two ATP clay-court finals this season in Lyon and Marrakech, could have crumbled in the third set.

However, the Slovakian, ranked No.255 back in May 2021 when he lost to Djokovic in the Belgrade-2 final, was able to launch plenty of piercing shots past the reigning champion. 

A rocket forehand return winner over the net post drew applause from the top seed and 13 passing shot winners portray a player able to strike under pressure within a rally.

On top of that, the Slovakian has an effective hooked lefty serve – providing plenty of practice for Djokovic should he meet perennial rival Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals.

Novak Djokovic, Alex Molcan, 2e tour, Roland-Garros 2022© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Doing it for the fans

Vying for supremacy in the ‘Big Three’ Grand Slam leaderboard, there are a multitude of reasons why Djokovic keeps battling away on tour.

For the two-time Roland-Garros champion, the support from the stands is a huge bonus.

“Of course it's great to see the crowd back, the full capacity on all courts,” stated the Serbian.

“Lots of young people, lots of kids, this is something that I really love to see. It always gives you energy. For me at this stage of my career, crowd and this energy of people coming to watch me play is one of the biggest reasons why I keep on competing, playing professional tennis.”