Djokovic 'moving in positive direction' with French Open win

Novak Djokovic waves his fist and roars during his 2024 French Open match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert
Novak Djokovic is aiming for a fourth French Open title [Getty Images]

Novak Djokovic began his French Open title defence with a solid if not spectacular victory over home hope Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Serbia's Djokovic, 37, upped his level when it mattered to win 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 in Tuesday's night session at Roland Garros.

The 24-time Grand Slam champion will take sole ownership of the record of most major titles with a fourth victory on the Paris clay.

But he has come into the event in uncertain form.

Djokovic has endured a turbulent season, having been far from his lofty heights and not yet reaching a final.

Playing in Geneva last week was a sign he wanted to build rhythm and confidence before heading to the French Open, saying when he arrived that he had "low expectations but high hopes".

Therefore, it was intriguing to see how Djokovic would perform against 142nd-ranked wildcard Herbert.

Djokovic's movement at the baseline did not always look comfortable and lacked some sharpness in his returning.

However, he generally served well and was still able to pick his moments to strike - most notably in a commanding tie-break.

This year, Djokovic has appeared to lack some of the fire which has often fuelled his success but his demonstrative celebrations as he clinched the two-set lead indicated his pleasure.

Chances were rare in the third set before he piled on the pressure again in what proved to be the final game.

A stunning winner at deuce teed up a first match point and Herbert blinked to hand it over with a double fault.

"I'm glad I started the way I started, the way I felt on the court," said Djokovic, who plays Spain’s world number 63 Roberto Carballes Baena in round two.

"Comparing to the previous weeks of tournaments I played [recently], I felt good, better. I'm moving in a positive direction."

Herbert already had 'biggest win of 2024'

Whatever happened in the match against Djokovic, Herbert had already seen his "biggest win of 2024".

Herbert's baby son Leandre had pancreatic surgery lasting 10 hours in April, after being diagnosed with congenital hyperinsulinism - a genetic disorder which causes abnormally high levels on insulin.

Shortly afterwards, Herbert revealed the ordeal his family had been through and said Leandre was "cured".

The family's story has touched the tennis community and perhaps provided the 33-year-old with an extra layer of support against Djokovic.

The Parisian fans always fervently get behind their home players, but were buoyed by seeing Herbert keep Djokovic on serve for most of the second and third sets.

The manner in which he handed over victory was cruel. The sympathetic groans were quickly drowned out by a booming ovation as he disappeared back to the locker room.