Sunday, May 22, 2011
Updated: May 23, 7:19 PM ET
Streak Watch: No signs of butterflies
By Ravi Ubha
PARIS -- In a city famed for haute cuisine, the amuse-bouche is delightfully commonplace. The bite-sized nuggets whet the appetite, setting the stage for wonderful protracted meals. At good restaurants -- of which there are many in the French capital -- anyway.
Novak Djokovic served up his own version Monday, blitzing friend Thiemo de Bakker -- far from a slouch on clay -- in 92 minutes to extend his winning streak to 40 matches.
"I'm not counting," Djokovic told reporters. "It's been an amazing streak, which, if you asked me in the beginning of the year if I would have expected that, no. I didn't expect it to go this far."
All signs lead to a delightful and extended sojourn at Roland Garros.
Openers at Grand Slams, even for the elite, can elicit butterflies, as reigning French Open champ Rafael Nadal has mentioned several times. Djokovic, though, appeared completely tension-free from the moment he arrived on a sun-baked Court Philippe Chatrier. In what was perhaps a first, he was in his chair enjoying a banana -- no gluten involved -- when introduced to the crowd, offering a smile and wave mid-chew.
And so the streak continues.
"The pressure is there, but he's able to keep relaxed somehow," Djokovic's coach, Marian Vajda, said afterward. "He's got a lot of confidence, and he's going and playing his best tennis. He's hitting the ball fantastic."
The world's second-ranked player, playing like a No. 1, was never in danger. He flashed his all-court game, the kind on display the past four months: Djokovic served impeccably, winning 83 percent of points behind the first delivery. He was aggressive from the baseline and retrieved with aplomb -- when needed. He returned de Bakker's heavy serve, his biggest weapon, with ease.
Djokovic's lone blip was whiffing on a forehand late in the second set. It happens to the best of them.
The Dutchman -- likened to Mike Tyson by Andre Agassi's former fitness trainer, Gil Reyes -- suffered a technical knockout.
He was bruised and badly beaten.
"I didn't have any chance at all," admitted de Bakker, who lost his sixth straight main-draw match but rose in the rankings by going 23-2 in a stretch of mostly clay-court Challengers in 2009. "He makes every shot. If you give him one shorter shot, he just hits it away."
The notoriously harsh Parisian faithful had no choice but to feel sympathy for de Bakker. At the end of the second, when de Bakker thought he broke to pull to 2-5, chair umpire Kader Nouni reversed his apparent winner. Some whistles followed.
Djokovic shouldn't have any problems gobbling up either Romanian veteran Victor Hanescu or French wild card Benoit Paire in the second round.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.