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Djokovic nearly chokes on the rain

Gets out of scary first round -- finally

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PARIS -- Novak Djokovic spent the better part of a rainy Tuesday at the French Open wondering when -- and even whether -- he would wind up playing his first-round match at the only Grand Slam tournament he's yet to win.

Unlike Wimbledon and the Australian Open, Roland Garros does not have a roof at any court.

Unlike the U.S. Open, though, at least there is a definitive timeline to build one.

Djokovic is thrilled about that forthcoming addition in Paris, even if it won't come until 2018. He also can't wait for them to install artificial lights at the French Open, which is supposed to happen sooner. Both of those improvements would have contributed to a more stress-free evening for the man ranked and seeded No. 1, who slipped and slid his way along the red clay to a 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-5 victory over David Goffin in the first round.

"It was a difficult day, because we have been waiting for hours and hours. I think I warmed up five or six times today," Djokovic said. "In these conditions ... you need to adjust your game and tactics, because it's quite different than comparing to the conditions when it's dry and sunny."

Even though his match against the 58th-ranked Goffin, a Belgian who was one of the revelations at Roland Garros a year ago, was the second to be played on Court Philippe Chatrier, they did not begin until after 6:30 p.m. They finished as light was fading shortly before 9 p.m.

"It was a long day," Djokovic said.

At least he got to play.

Because of showers that began in the morning, there was a delay of more than 2 1/2 hours at the start. Then, after only 1 1/2 hours of action, arrived another stop of more than an hour. All told, only 26 of 40 scheduled singles matches were completed, three were suspended in progress, and organizers wound up postponing 11 others entirely. That means players such as Victoria Azarenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, will be slated for first-round action Wednesday, the fourth day of the tournament (when, by the way, the forecast calls for more rain).

That sets up a situation where Azarenka, for example, would need to win seven matches across 11 days to win the trophy, while 2002 champion Serena Williams -- began the tournament Sunday and is set to play in the second round today -- would have her seven matches spread over 14 days if she goes the distance.

Among the winners Tuesday were 2010 French Open runner-up and 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur, who beat 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-0, 6-2.

"It was spitting a little bit when we went out there," Stosur said. "You think, 'Oh, are we going to start or are we not?' Lucky for me, I was able to finish the match before this last downpour came."

Another Australian, Bernard Tomic -- whose father was barred from Roland Garros after being accused this month of head-butting Tomic's hitting partner -- stopped because of a torn right hamstring while trailing Victor Hanescu 7-5, 7-6 (8), 2-1. Three other men retired during matches: No. 28 Florian Mayer (right thigh), Alejandro Falla (stomach problems), Simone Bolelli (right wrist).

No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 12 Tommy Haas and No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber and No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov advanced, along with 20-year-old American Jack Sock in his French Open debut.

If Dimitrov -- he and Maria Sharapova are an item, so he was asked Tuesday about dealing with paparazzi -- reaches the third round, he could face Djokovic. That would be an intriguing matchup, given that Dimitrov defeated Djokovic on clay at Madrid three weeks ago.

"This is the kind of matches I'd always want to play in," Dimitrov said. "I feel good on the big courts and playing against good players."

Djokovic found Goffin in possession of that same attitude.

In 2012, Goffin got into the French Open as a "lucky loser" -- someone who loses in qualifying but is put in because another player withdrew -- and made it all the way to the fourth round. That's when Goffin got to face Roger Federer, his idol, and even took a set off the owner of the most career major titles before losing the match.

"He has a good chance to have a good future," Djokovic said. "He likes playing here, obviously. He likes playing on a big stage."

Djokovic lost to seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in last year's final. That ended Djokovic's 27-match Grand Slam winning streak and, with it, his attempt to earn a fourth consecutive major championship.

Now Djokovic -- who has won the Australian Open four times, and the U.S. Open and Wimbledon once each -- really would love to pick up his first trophy at Roland Garros to complete a career Grand Slam.

Djokovic had a chance to speak French to the fans during an interview, a post-match ritual that's become de rigueur this week. Williams and Nadal did it, too.

"I really wanted to finish tonight," Djokovic said, "although I know the crowd wanted to watch a little longer."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2013 C12

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