It would be a shock if the final on June 9 is not a repeat of the Australian Open decider, and nothing in Nadal’s victory over Yannick Hanfmann or Djokovic’s downing of Hubert Hurkacz changed that view.
Djokovic had the more difficult assignment against 22-year-old Pole Hurkacz, who has made swift progress up the rankings, but the world number one was dialled in from the start and eased to a 6-4 6-2 6-2 victory.
“I had to start sharp with the right intensity,” he said. “And a break of serve in the first game gave me wings, I would say, and relaxed me a bit so I could just start off in the best possible fashion. I thought I played a very solid match.”
Djokovic and Nadal have played each other seven times at Roland Garros, with the Spaniard winning six, so it could be to Djokovic’s advantage that he feels the redevelopment of Chatrier has changed the playing conditions.
“It’s a pleasure to play in the new court,” he said. “It looks different, obviously, and feels a bit different. It feels a little bit more like indoor, which I like.”
Nadal disagreed after his 6-2 6-1 6-3 victory over German qualifier Hanfmann, who was playing only his second grand slam match.
“I think it’s the same,” he said. “I don’t have different feelings. In terms of a visual game, we can talk about small differences, but in terms of playing tennis, I think it’s the same.”
Nadal had to consult YouTube to learn more about Hanfmann, and he will do the same for his next opponent, another German qualifier called Yannick, this time Yannick Maden.
Nadal was content with his opening display, saying: “It was a first round, and I did a lot of things well. Not many mistakes. Being very solid all the time.
“Of course it is the beginning and the first round is more about talking about what I have to do better. What I did very well today is just about the general
feeling, and the general feeling has been positive this afternoon.”
Fourth seed Dominic Thiem, who was beaten by Nadal in the final 12 months ago, was in trouble against American Tommy Paul but recovered to win 6-4 4-6 7-6 (5) 6-2.
After taking the second set, Paul led 4-0 in the tie-break but could not hang onto his advantage.
It was a good day for the home country, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Benoit Paire, Gilles Simon and Corentin Moutet all winning, but the French moment of the day undoubtedly came on Court 14, where Pierre-Hugues Herbert came from two sets down to defeat 12th seed Daniil Medvedev 4-6 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5.
Herbert’s fine victory came only a day after his long-time doubles partner Nicolas Mahut mounted a similar comeback against Marco Cecchinato.
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Roger Federer needed no reintroduction to Roland Garros, but the Swiss superstar is happy to fly under the radar.
Federer, who turns 38 in August, is challenging for the French Open title once again after giving the clay season a miss for the past three years.
The change to his schedule has seen the all-time great pick up three more Grand Slam titles and avoid the debilitating injuries that threatened to end his career in 2016.
He has elected however to return this year and hit the ground running by dispatching Italian Lorenzo Sonego 6-2 6-4 6-4 in just an hour and 41 minutes in his first-round clash on Sunday.
With long-time rivals Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic duelling in the Italian Open last week – as Federer withdrew from the quarter-finals – the world No.3 is for once not up among the outright favourites to win the tournament.
Watch why Federer believes this is a good thing above.
The 20-time grand slam champion is playing the year’s second major tournament for the first time in four years and had no trouble finding his feet on the redeveloped Court Philippe Chatrier as he dispatched Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 6-2 6-4 6-4 in just an hour and 41 minutes.
Federer had skipped the entire clay-court season for the last two years before making his return earlier this month in Madrid.
“It’s nice to be an outsider,” said Federer. “That’s how I feel, anyhow. Just see how it goes. I know when Wimbledon comes around, sure, I’ll be probably a higher favourite. That’s OK, too. I’m happy that I’m there where I am.
“But for many years it was if I don’t win, it’s a disappointment, and you explain yourself in the press room. People don’t understand why you lost. I feel like if I lost (here) first round or in the finals or wherever it is, people would be, like, ‘OK, that could have happened’.
“I like that approach for me also once in a while. It relaxes you on the bigger points maybe, or it relaxes you subconsciously as you walk through the grounds and go to practice and go to the press room.
“This is not a show I’m putting on. This is the truth. I really don’t know how far I can go in this event and I am very happy with my first round. It was a really good performance, I thought, from my side for not having played here for as long as I did.”
Federer is worshipped as fervently at Roland Garros as anywhere, and the fans showed how thrilled they were to have the 37-year-old back, with a rousing ovation as he strode onto court.
They were not to be disappointed by the tennis either, Federer deploying his full repertoire to move into 4-0 leads in both the first two sets.
Sonego, a 24-year-old Italian ranked 73rd, dug in well from there, retrieving one of the breaks in the second set and then matching his rival in the third until the crucial break at 4-4.
Federer was never under any real pressure, though, and that was just the way the Chatrier crowd wanted it.
“The reception I got today was crazy,” he said. “It was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this. It was a beauty. So I’m very, very happy. I feel that the public missed me, and I missed them, as well.”
Federer next faces German lucky loser Oscar Otte, who won his first grand slam match against Malek Jaziri.
Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas could be waiting for Federer should he reach the quarter-finals, and the Greek comfortably moved through to the second round with a 6-2 6-2 7-6 (4) victory over Maximilian Marterer.
Elsewhere, last year’s semi-finalist, Italian 16th seed Marco Cecchinato, was a
first-round casualty, losing 2-6 6-7 (6) 6-4 6-2 6-4 to veteran Frenchman
Cecchinato, who stunned Novak Djokovic in the last eight 12 months ago, had led by two sets to love but 37-year-old wild card Mahut fought back to give the new garden court Simonne Mathieu its first classic match and take his biggest scalp on his 17th appearance in the main draw here.
Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic both won in straight sets while struggling Grigor Dimitrov let a two-set lead slip against Janko Tipsarevic before eventually prevailing in five.
There was disappointment, meanwhile, for 25th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who withdrew from the tournament with a groin injury.
The exciting 18-year-old Canadian is hopeful of being fit for the grass-court season.