The return of the crowds to Roland Garros following the two restricted pandemic-hit years, provided the requisite atmosphere to welcome Carlos Alcaraz as one of the favourites to collect this year’s French Open title.
I’m really happy with the performance in my first match in Philippe Chatrier and hope to play more matches [on] this court. Carlos Alcaraz
Since making his first appearance at the second Grand Slam of the season last year, the Spanish teenager has risen from being a qualifier for the event to sixth seed status, and, with five titles to his name, a major title contender surrounded by a huge amount of hype.
And the 19-year-old didn’t let anyone down as he swept into the second round by defeating the Lucky Loser from Argentina, Juan Ignacio Londero 6-4 6-2 6-0 on his debut on Philippe Chatrier Court to extend his win-loss record for the season so far, to 29 wins against three losses.
He is widely tipped to become just the eighth teenager to pocket a major men’s title and end the dominance of both the current world No.1 Novak Djokovic, and the 13-time French Open champion Rafa Nadal.
On paper Londero, as a Lucky Loser entry, wasn’t expected to provide Alcaraz with much resistance but like the Spaniard, he has honed his game on South American clay courts and has reached the FO quarter finals where he lost to Nadal in 2019, so it wasn’t surprising to see him give Alcaraz a tough first set.
However, when he was broken in the 10th game, the young Spaniard immediately took control and never allowed him back into the match, breaking him twice in the second and three times in the third ending the opener with 22-winners.
“It was difficult at the beginning, but it’s always special to play in such a great stadium, a great court,” Alcaraz said later. “I’m really happy with the performance in my first match in Philippe Chatrier and hope to play more matches [on] this court.”
His next challenger will be compatriot Albert Ramos Vinolas which should see him back on a main show court.
He then added: “I have been watching this tournament many years. It’s a unique place to play and I have been dreaming of playing here.”
Alcaraz picked up four titles this season and has now won his last 11 matches which includes successive victories at the Madrid Masters, over Djokovic, Nadal and the world No.3 Alexander Zverev to win his last title.
The German, a semi-finalist last year who is scheduled to face Alcaraz in the quarter finals, was also in action on the opening day and eased comfortably into round two with a 6-2 6-4 6-4 victory over Austrian Sebastian Ofner. the world number 218.
“I had a very stable clay court season,” Zverev said. “Semis in Monte Carlo, final in Madrid, semis in Rome. But I didn’t win any tournaments.
“I’d rather lose first round, first round, first round and then win a tournament, so hopefully I can do that here. Hopefully I can play my best tennis here.”
Austrian tennis suffered another disappointment when Dominic Thiem, two-time FO finalist, whose ranking has slipped to 194 after a lengthy battle with a wrist injury, lost 6-3 6-2 6-4 to 87th-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.
Thiem, the 2020 US Open champion, is struggling to recover the form that saw him rise to world No.3 and has now lost his last sixth consecutive opening matches.
“It’s not the greatest feeling to go in a Grand Slam knowing that all is not perfect in practice,” the Austrian said.
“I knew that it was going to take time, that the level is extremely high from all the players competing here and I’m not there yet,” Thiem added. “I was really working hard to get there but the time was just not enough.
“I have to accept it and even though it was really painful defeat now, week after week, it’s still nothing unexpected happened. If I would have won many matches or whatever, would have been a big surprise. So it’s painful, I’m very disappointed, but it goes on.”
In other action on Day 1, the Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime finally secured his first win in three visits to Roland Garros, but it for some time, that looked unlikely as the Peruvian qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas dominated the opening two sets before he recovered to win 2-6 2-6 6-1 6-3 6-3.
“Once I got the first break, it was a relief, because I spent two sets without being able to break him,” Auger-Aliassime admitted. “Then to get that first break, go up 3-1 and then serve well and 4-1, and then I had more belief in me. But I don’t think also at any point I lost belief, because I know how I can play, I know what my level is, and I knew that if I hung in there and if I tried to find a way to change things around, I would get my opportunity.”
Next for the Canadian is another qualifier from South America, Camilo Ugo Carabelli of Argentina, who outlasted the Muscovite Aslan Karatsev 6-3 4-6 6-4 3-6 7-6(5).
Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov avenged his loss to Marcos Giron a year ago by crushing the American 6-1 6-1 6-1 and joined Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman and the US’s John Isner in round two but Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas brought American Jenson Brooksby’s campaign to an early end.
Day Two will feature Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic and the big question is whether the Spaniard’s foot will hold up against Australia’s Jordan Thompon following his revelation that he is has been suffering from problem in that area for some time.
“The pain is there always, no?” Nadal said on Friday. “It’s not about [to] disappear now. It’s about if the pain is high and strong enough to allow me to play with real chances or not.
“Is something that I live every day with that, so is nothing new for me and is not a big surprise. So I am here just to play tennis and to try to make the best result possible here in Roland Garros, no? And if I don’t believe that this thing can happen, probably I will not be here.
“So I am just working as much as I can, and practicing as good as possible. My real goal is just put me in a position that I am healthy and playing enough good tennis to give myself good chances.”
Meanwhile Djokovic will be a big favourite in his title defence meeting Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the night session.
Also in action Monday are Britain’s sole representatives in the men’s draw, Dan Evans against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo while Cameron Norrie takes on the French wildcard Manuel Guinard.