French Open: Novak Djokovic ready for Paris opener

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Roland Garros
Novak Djokovic
Djokovic is closing in on John McEnroe's record start to a year of 42 wins in 1984

Novak Djokovic will look to extend his incredible winning streak when he begins his French Open campaign against Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker on Monday.

The Serbian, who has won 39 matches stretching back to last November, takes centre stage as he and the likes of Roger Federer, Caroline Wozniacki, Juan Martin del Potro and Francesca Schiavone kick-start the tournament after a low-key opening day.

Britain is represented on day two as Anne Keothavong opens play on Court 16 against Vesna Dolonts, and Heather Watson takes on Stephanie Foretz Gacon in the fourth and final match on Court Seven.

"I like playing first, it means you know what to expect and what time you'll be out there," Keothavong told BBC Sport, who beat Dolonts twice in 2008.

Djokovic savouring 'every moment'

"Both our previous matches were indoors and a few years ago but I know she's a tough opponent who likes clay. On paper it looks like one of the better draws I could have got but she's a tough player."

Watson, 19, has already enjoyed three victories at Roland Garros to qualify for the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time, where she will face 30-year-old Foretz Gacon of France.

It is Djokovic who will command the attention, however, as his historic run of success arrives in Paris and threatens to trample over more landmarks of the sport in the weeks to come.

The world number two, who turned 24 on Sunday, is only five wins from equalling John McEnroe's record start to a year of 42 in 1984, and seven victories from equalling Guillermo Vilas's all-time winning streak of 46 matches in 1977.

Djokovic has twice lost in the French Open semi-finals to five-time champion Rafael Nadal, but when asked if he thinks he can take the Spaniard's title, the 2008 and 2011 Australian Open champion told BBC Sport: "I believe I can."

He has beaten the Spaniard four times in succession this year, including back-to-back victories on clay, and for the first time he has exposed a chink in the world number one's armour heading into Roland Garros.

"I'm definitely enjoying every single moment of the success that I have," said Djokovic.

"I honestly didn't expect it to go this far but the hard work has paid off, the right mental approach and thinking only about winning.

"Everything came together for me this year - I improved my game by a small percentage of each shot and mentally I have matured as a person and a player, I have more experience on the court and I handle the expectations and pressure much better."

One man who has slipped out of the spotlight so dominated by Djokovic in 2011 has been Federer, and the 16-time Grand Slam champion faces a tricky opener against Spain's Feliciano Lopez.

The Swiss star only recently and has looked out of sorts during the clay-court season with just one semi-final appearance in three tournaments.

But he insists that people now "expect more from Rafa and Novak, and that could be a good thing for me".

Argentina's Del Potro is a potentially dangerous third-round opponent for Djokovic, should the 2009 US Open champion get past Ivo Karlovic in round one.

Del Potro missed most of 2010 with a serious wrist injury and had been battling his way back up the rankings this year until a hip injury forced him out again and briefly threatened his participation in Paris.

Women's number one Wozniacki begins another quest for a first Grand Slam title in the fourth and final match on Court Suzanne Lenglen, with Kimiko Date-Krumm standing in her way - the Japanese player twice Wozniacki's age at 40 years old.

Defending champion Schiavone opens proceedings on Court Philippe Chatrier against American Melanie Oudin.

World number one Nadal and Britons Andy Murray and Elena Baltacha play their opening matches on Tuesday.