Roger Federer made a flawless start to his 16th consecutive Roland Garros campaign, cruising past Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga triumphed in an all-French battle with Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
The Swiss has made the most appearances in Paris amongst active players and he certainly proved that he felt at home on Court Philippe Chatrier yesterday.
Cheered on by his wife Mirka and two twin daughters in the stands, Federer was particularly clinical at the net being successful in 16 of the 20 net approaches during the one hour 24 minute first-round encounter.
Contesting in his 58th straight Grand Slam – an Open era record – Federer broke Lacko five times and didn't face a single break point on his serve as he moved on to set up a last-64 meeting with Argentine wildcard Diego Sebastian Schwartzman.
“I’m happy I got off to a good start for the tournament here in Paris,” said the 32-year-old. “There’s always that little bit of feeling that if you don’t feel well, if the opponent plays great, whatever happens so you could lose early.
“So I was happy getting early signs out of the match that I was actually playing well and I was going to get my chances I was looking for. It was a simple, straightforward match. I had everything under control from A to Z.
“On my service games there was never a dangerous moment. It’s always very pleasant to have such a good first round.”
Later on centre court, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga survived a nervy start against Roger-Vasselin and needed 112 minutes to get through the first two sets before shifting gears in the third to wrap up a 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-2.
The No13 seed is the only Frenchman to reach five Grand Slam semi-finals in the Open era – including one in Paris last year – but is not yet confident he can reach that stage again oer the course of the next fortnight.
“I’m not convinced. Not yet," said Tsonga of his chances of reaching the latter stages of the tournament. "And sometimes you’re convinced only when you’ve reached this stage.
“I didn’t have enough confidence, given the matches I had played before, and it’s also the beginning of a Grand Slam. And it’s also because it’s here, it’s Roland Garros, and I want to play well here, of course.
“[There were] many reasons why the beginning of the match this evening was this way. I hope that I’ll change for the following match.”
Over on Court 1, sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych debuted yet another controversial outfit, donning a flower-patterned shirt for his 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Canada’s Peter Polansky.
The Czech, who was upset by Gael Monfils in the first round last year, has played every major since his first appearance in the 2003 US Open while Polansky was contesting his first Grand Slam since the 2010 US Open.
Other action saw Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny recover from two sets down to beat Pablo Carreno Busta 6-0 in the fifth while America’s John Isner took out local wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-5.
“I’m rather satisfied,” said Herbert, following a match in which he hit 11 aces to Isner’s 23. “I felt like this was an extraordinary moment. I’ve never been through anything like that.”
It’s becoming a recurring feeling here at Roland Garros. You walk around the grounds and you feel more like you’re at Wimbledon rather than Paris, with the weather dreary, cold and very very wet.
But even though it was raining cats and dogs yesterday, that didn’t stop the players from taking to Court Philippe Chatrier to take part in Kids’ Day, which this year, was staged in support of the Balkans, raising funds for rescue and relief from the floods in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.
It was a full house on centre court, with acclaimed DJ Bob Sinclair entertaining the crowds, and a host of players taking part in back-to-back exhibitions.
Simona Halep dazzled as she hit every shot in the book while playing a doubles match, partnering French wheelchair tennis star Stephane Houdet, against Alize Cornet and French teenager Laurent Lokoli.
Djokovic, who gave away his entire prize money from winning Rome last Sunday to the flood victims in the Balkans, was joined by Goran Ivanisevic, Jelena Jankovic and Kristina Mladenovic, amongst others and the crowds roared when he started shaking his bottom to Aerosmith and Run DMC’s Walk this Way.
But it was Monfils who stole the show, putting in a proper break-dancing performance, which saw him at one point standing on one hand.
While it’s far from wise to break-dance in the rain a day before his most important tournament of the season starts, we can never expect anything less from the acrobatic Monfils, who undoubtedly won the dance-off between him and a pop-locking Lokoli.
Over on the practice courts, Milos Raonic was practicing with Grigor Dimitrov, with their coaches, Ivan Ljubicic and Roger Rasheed seriously watching over them. Let’s just say that Raonic’s serve up close is just as terrifying as it sounds.
In the press room, Roger Federer was asked to reflect upon his first match at Roland Garros, back in 1999 against the-then world No3 Pat Rafter.
He said: “I had a wildcard, and I was very happy with this wildcard. When you’re young and you play a big tournament like the French Open, if people think you have talent and it’s good to give you a wildcard, it’s great. I played on the Lenglen Court against Rafter. It was fantastic for me. I even won the first set.
“At the time you even got bonus points if you beat top 50 or top 10 players, so I was trying to get those points. I knew I wouldn’t end up winning the match. But it’s like a carrot you give to a donkey, you know, but it was great.”
Interesting choice of words, Roger!
Serena Williams’ bid to become the first back-to-back women’s singles winner in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007 begins today and the American gets to face a good friend of hers, France’s Alize Lim.
The pair got acquainted at the Mouratoglou Academy in Paris and were tweeting photos of themselves together from Friday’s Players’ Party at the Eiffel Tower, which is why Williams could be forgiven if she preferred to play someone else in her opening round.
“We were talking about it before the draw was made (me and Alize). It’s ironic,” said the defending champion, who has never played Lim before. “She’s a great player. She’s been doing really well. So we’ll see.”
Williams has managed to transform herself into a top clay-court player after previously struggling on the surface.
Her only victory here prior to last year was in 2002, but she finds herself now completely dominant on a surface where she’s only lost three matches in the past three seasons.
The world No1 says her victory in Rome last week – after suffering a thigh injury in Madrid – came at the perfect time.
“It was important for me, because I didn’t get to play as much clay as I did last year. I had to stop in Madrid early, so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play Rome,” said the 32-year-old.
“Then to come out the win gave me a lot of confidence. I got a lot of matches in there and I needed those matches. I felt good after them.”
On how she feels as the No1 seed week in, week out, Williams said: “I like being seeded No1.
“The favourite part is definitely the fact that there is more pressure. But as Billie Jean King tells me, pressure is a privilege.”
Williams could potentially face her sister Venus in the third round of the tournament but the older Williams sister must first get past a tricky first round against Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, who won the junior event here last season.
World No3 Agnieszka Radwanska opens proceedings on Philippe Chatrier against Chinese up-and-comer Zhang Shuai while eighth-seeded Angelique Kerber, who lost to Karolina Pliskova in the Nurnberg quarters a few days ago, takes on Poland’s Katarzyna Piter.