Djokovic, who is bidding for his first title at Roland Garros, began and ended the match with trademark assurance, dictating the play against an opponent who at times looked bewildered by the power and variety of the top seed’s all-court game.
But Nieminen, a former world No13 who has reached the last eight at each of the other three majors, knows his way around a tennis court. At 33, the Finn is fully aware that his days on the game’s biggest stages are numbered, and he seemed determined to make the most of the moment.
Midway through the first set, a sprightly scurry to the net and back culminated with an audacious winning pass that earned a thumbs-up from Djokovic, and there was more to come from the veteran. Energised after breaking early in the second set, he raced to a 5-2 lead and briefly looked to be on the verge of a minor sensation.
But Djokovic, who has now extended his winning streak to 23 matches after winning Masters titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome in the prelude to the tournament, rapidly recovered his poise. Defending flawlessly from the baseline, he outrallied Nieminen twice in quick succession to break back before racing through the third set –a few late gestures of defiance from Nieminen notwithstanding – to reach the second round.
Addressing the crowd on Philippe Chatrier court in French afterwards, Djokovic said: “I always feel a lot of emotion when I get back on this court. This year I’m playing very well so far and I hope I will get the confidence I have had since the beginning of the year in the French Open.”
Evidently more relaxed than he had been in the second set, the Serb joked: “I will tell my French teacher I have been very good in French today.”
He will play Gilles Muller of Luxembourg or the Italian Paolo Lorenzi in the next round.
Djokovic, who is desperate to claim the only major title to have eluded him so far – a feat that would make him only the eighth man in history to achieve a career grand slam – is seeded to meet the defending champion Rafael Nadal in the last eight.
This article was written by Les Roopanarine, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 26th May 2015 17.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010