China’s Li Na, the 2011 champion, and Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska were early winners at the French Open yesterday, as defending champions Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova waited to ignite their campaigns.
Sixth seed Li was a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Anabel Medina Garrigues, the experienced Spaniard playing in her 38th consecutive Grand Slam.
Li, who had lost all of her three previous meetings on clay against Garrigues, goes on to face Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the US for a place in the round-of-32, but in a roller-coaster season on clay for the Chinese superstar, where she was runner-up to Sharapova in Stuttgart, before suffering early exits in Madrid and Rome, she will look to improve on an up-and-down performance yesterday where there were 10 breaks of serve.
Radwanska, who has never got beyond the round-of-16 in Paris, breezed past Israel’s Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-1 and faces Mallory Burdette of the US in the next round.
She is scheduled to face younger sister Urszula in the third round.
The Pole, last year’s Wimbledon runner-up, came into Paris nursing a shoulder injury which forced her to withdraw from Brussels last week and contributed to second-round exits in Madrid and Rome, but Agnieszka Radwanska, with her hair now dyed blonde just like her sister, said she is fit enough to last the distance at Roland Garros.
“Well, it’s up and down, but definitely it’s a little bit worse on clay,” she said. “I think I’m used to the pain. I’m ready to go and I’m 100 percent fit.”
In the men’s draw, Japanese hope and 13th seed Kei Nishikori moved into the second round with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Canada’s Jesse Levine in just 1 hour, 31 minutes.
The Florida-based 23-year-old from Shimane traveled to Paris having suffered a straight-sets loss to Jeremy Chardy of France in the second round in Rome, though a week prior to that he was a quarter-finalist in Madrid after knocking out Roger Federer to show his mettle on clay.
Nishikori missed Roland Garros last year owing to an abdominal strain and his previous two appearances brought second-round exits, but that record should improve against his next rival, the unheralded Grega Zemlja of Slovenia, who polished off Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo in straight sets.
Against lefty Levine, a 25-year-old from Ottowa who is based in Boca Raton, Florida, Nishikori was all business as he whipped down a flurry of meaty forehands and double-handed backhands, hitting 26 winners to nine for his rival.
TOP 10 GOAL
The Japanese also broke the Levine serve nine times and already he must be preparing himself mentally for an assault on the world top 10, which now looms tantalizingly close — a far cry from three seasons ago, when a right-elbow injury hampered his progress for months.
“The next goal is for sure top 10, but it’s not going to be easy. I’m close, but there is really a long way to go,” he said.
Local favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga barely broke sweat as he brushed aside Slovenian Aljaz Bedene 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to book his place in the second round.
Sixth seed Tsonga, the last French man to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in 2008, next takes on either compatriot Paul-Henri Mathieu or Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen.
Tsonga, who could run into second seed Federer in the quarter-finals, simply had too much power and pace for Bedene, who was playing his only second Grand Slam match.