Djokovic cruises past Kovacevic as Avanesyan ousts Bencic


World number three Novak Djokovic began his quest for a record-breaking 23rd men's Grand Slam singles title after sweeping past American Aleksandar Kovacevic 6-3 6-2 7-6 in the opening round of the French Open.

The twice Roland Garros champion will face Hungarian journeyman Marton Fucsovics for a place in the third round.

"It's always a pleasure to come back here, one of the best tournaments in the world," said Djokovic, who made his Roland Garros debut in 2005.

"I'm very motivated to go far here, all the way I hope."

Djokovic did not have an ideal build-up to the claycourt Grand Slam, missing the Madrid Masters and being eliminated in the last eight in Rome, but he looked in good form in wind conditions.

Elsewhere, Benoit Paire kept his cool but could not avoid yet another defeat in the main Tour when he was beaten in five sets by British 14th seed Cameron Norrie 5-7 6-4 6-3 1-6 4-6.  

Paire, given a wildcard, was up a break in the decider but could not close out the match.

In the women's draw, Elina Avanesyan of Russia, ranked 134th in the world, upset 12th seed Belinda Bencic 6-3 2-6 6-4 to earn her main draw Grand Slam win and reach the second round.

Meanwhile, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrated her return to Roland Garros with a dominant 6-2 6-2 win over Czech Linda Fruhvirtova after fearing for her career a year ago due to a knee problem.

The 31-year-old enjoyed her best run at a Grand Slam in the 2021 tournament when she reached the final, and skipped last year's edition as well as the second half of the season to nurse an injury.

Sloane Stephens, runner-up at Roland Garros in 2018, dismantled former world number one Karolina Pliskova 6-0 6-4.

Although everything went smoothly on court for the American, she said racist abuse of players had got worse.

"Yes, it's obviously been a problem my entire career," said Stephens. "It has never stopped. If anything, it's only gotten worse."

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