PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic showed glimpses of frailty along with his usual ruthless streak as he eased past French Open opponent David Goffin on Tuesday by moving through the gears whenever the first-round tie looked like getting tricky.
Djokovic wrapped up a 7-6(5) 6-4 7-5 win in a little over two hours, but was frequently under pressure against an opponent who played without fear and showcased an attacking armory that belied his lowly ranking.
There was a familiarity about the occasion as Paris’s unseasonable downpours kept Djokovic waiting to make his first return to Philippe Chatrier Court since losing last year’s rain-sodden final to Rafa Nadal.
The world number one waited in the wings for most of the day before emerging into the early evening gloom to encounter a talented shot-maker on the other side of the net.
Goffin was making only his second appearance at Roland Garros, but had given fair warning about his ability by reaching the last 16 a year ago and taking a set off Roger Federer on his way out.
“I was aware of his qualities before, but there is nothing you can do when somebody plays well but to fight and to come up with your best game and try to win,” said Djokovic, who is chasing the only major title missing from his collection.
“That’s what I have done. There are things I need to work on, but for the first match it was a great challenge for me, and I overcame it. Hopefully I can build from here.”
Goffin had his chances, none more so than when pushing his opponent into a first set tie-break and then holding his own to come within two points of the set.
Unfortunately, a member of the raucous Parisian crowd, in an effort to inspire the youngster, let out an ill-timed shout of “Allez David” at 5-5 on his second serve, causing the world number 58 to double fault.
With the nerves clearly jangling, Goffin then netted a backhand to hand first blood to the Serb.
Showing a level of maturity that many more experienced players might lack, the Belgian said: “That’s what happens sometimes. When you play in the Davis Cup you see that on every serve, basically.
“It was up to me to focus my mind. This is the type of thing that can happen and can happen to anybody.
“So tough luck on me, because it came at this time.”
The Belgian showed a bucket-load of resolve to cancel out an early Djokovic break at the start of the second set, but the Serb has not won six grand slams without being able to up his game when the occasion demands.
After going toe-to-toe, he sent his opponent sprawling to the ground in the ninth game of the second set with a second break that proved decisive.
There was a battling quality about Goffin, who still managed to push Djokovic on to the back foot, with punchy forehands and clever court craft but, when the Belgian passed up a break-point opportunity in the third, there was no way back.
Djokovic broke for a 6-5 lead in the third and then served it out to leave the Goffin to accept a rousing send-off from the French crowd who had liked what they had seen.
“You can’t expect the top player is always going to win opening rounds of a grand slam and give only five or six games to an opponent in three sets,” Djokovic said. “It’s not possible.
“There are players who are extra-motivated and very talented with the mindset of having nothing to lose on the court.”
Djokovic’s reward for keeping the tyro at bay is a second-round match against Argentina’s Guido Pella, who beat Ivan Dodig 4-6 6-4 6-3 2-6 12-10 in a punishing five-set match.
Editing by John Mehaffey