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.
The 28-year-old Frenchman ended the contest on Court Suzanne Lenglen on his first match point with a service winner.
Federer is used to ending Grand Slam tournaments on Sundays rather than starting them, but the French Open’s quirky schedule could not throw the Swiss stylist off his stride as he strolled through his Roland Garros opener in ruthless fashion a day earlier.
The 31-year-old had his nose put out of joint when forced to play on the opening Sunday when the French Open brought forward the start in 2006, but he was serene as he thrashed Spanish Grand Slam rookie Pablo Carreno-Busta 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in the first round this year.
Federer, who often does his post-match press conferences in three languages, was impressive on the opening day alongside the Bois de Boulogne.
The Swiss former champion, seeded two and with a realistic chance of reaching the final after being placed in the opposite half of the draw to his Roland Garros nemesis Nadal and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, sealed victory with a graceful backhand winner.
“It’s clearly important to win in straight sets if you can and not waste extra energy,” Federer told reporters. “I put a lot of focus on that always, especially in the early rounds of a tournament.”
Gilles Simon, one of six Frenchmen seeded as the host nation desperately craves a first male champion since Yannick Noah in 1983, gave fans on Court Suzanne Lenglen anxiety attacks as he lost the opening two sets to old warrior Lleyton Hewitt, before recovering to win 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5.
Simon led 5-0 in the fifth set, but an attack of nerves almost let veteran Aussie Hewitt steal victory.
“I’m just sad that it takes me one hour to feel good on the court,” Simon told reporters. “Today I got lucky.”
David Ferrer, seeded fourth after the withdrawal of Britain’s Andy Murray, eased into the second round with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 defeat of another Australian, Marinko Matosevic, who has now lost his last nine Grand Slam first-round matches.
Two women’s seeds fell on Sunday, most notably fading force Venus Williams, who suffered only her fifth first-round defeat in 59 Grand Slam tournaments when she was dispatched 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (4/7), 6-4 by Poland’s Urszula Radwanska with darkness falling.
Women’s No. 11 seed Nadia Petrova of Russia was the day’s highest-ranked casualty, losing to Puerto Rican teenager Monica Puig 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, but last year’s runner-up, Sara Errani, was untroubled beating Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-2.
Federer, who in 2006 made his feelings known to organizers after being served up as a tasty tournament appetizer for a Sunday first-round match against Diego Hartfield, was far more relaxed this time round after again being asked to showcase the tournament’s unique Sunday start.
Up against a young Spaniard who won seven consecutive titles at the third-tier Futures level of the men’s tour this season, Federer warmed to the task immediately.
“I remember they sort of forced me to play on Sunday years back to promote their Sunday thing,” Federer told reporters. “Wimbledon does it in 13 days and the French does it in 15. So it doesn’t make sense, but I do understand that a weekend for tennis is very important for the people who can show up. But I’m happy this time around. I told them if they wanted me to play Sunday, whatever, I’m fine with it. They took that opportunity right away.”