PARIS: World number one Novak Djokovic will go ‘shark’ hunting at the French Open on Thursday as he looks to seal a place in the last 32.
Djokovic, seeking to take a step closer to a first Roland Garros title and complete the career Grand Slam, faces Belgian qualifier Steve Darcis whose nickname is ‘The Shark’.
Darcis, 32, had to qualify for the tournament but he does have Grand Slam pedigree having dumped Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon in 2013.
The Belgian veteran is also keen to cause a shock and dedicate victory to former coach Julien Hoferlin who died of cancer in April at the age of 49.
“I think about him every day, when I train, before playing a match,” said Darcis.
“It’s not easy not having him on my side. It’s not easy not being able to send him a message the day before an important match.
“It’s tough. But whether it’s for my family, my relatives, for him, I have to do my very best. That’s what I’m doing.”
Djokovic, a three-time runner-up in the last four years, eased through his first round with a straight sets win over Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun.
He holds a 2-0 career advantage over Darcis and when told he was to face Darcis again, he smilingly said: “I like sharks!”
Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal, the fourth seed, was equally untroubled in his first round against big-serving Sam Groth, dropping just three games.
He tackles Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis, the 26-year-old world number 99 who also reached the second round on debut last year.
Defending women’s champion Serena Williams continues her campaign to win a 22nd Grand Slam title and equal the record set by Steffi Graf.
The 34-year-old top seed faces world number 81 Teliana Pereira of Brazil who has never got beyond the second round of a Grand Slam.
Venus Williams follows her sister on Court Suzanne Lenglen against American compatriot Louisa Chirico.
The 20-year-old Chirico, ranked at 78 in the world, came through qualifying and won her first match at the Grand Slam level by beating fellow American Lauren Davis in the opening round.
Elsewhere, the 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic faces Japan’s Kurumi Nara while former Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard of Canada tackles eighth seed Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland.
Bacsinszky reached the semi-finals in Paris last year having once taken a break from the sport to work in a hotel.