The two main contenders for this year’s French Open title got their respective challenges off to excellent starts as they set off in their bids to make history, Rafa Nadal to extend his record of 11 titles at Roland Garros while Novak Djokovic, the reigning Wimbledon, US and Australian Open champion, has targeted a second career grand slam.
It's always amazing to play here, the new Chatrier is very nice, It's been an important place in my career. I played a good tournament in Rome which was very important for my confidence. Now we'll see." Rafa Nadal
First up on the second day of the second major of the season, was the defending champion from Spain, who brushed aside brushing German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann in his opening round. He retained his focus for most of the match despite unfortunately smacking his head against an overhanging camera when he walked out onto the rebuilt Court Philippe Chatrier.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion cruised to a 6-2 6-1 6-3 victory to meet another German qualifier — world number 114 Yannick Maden — in round two.
Having had a ‘troublesome’ build up with the ‘King of Clay’ arriving in Paris with just one clay court title to his name as well as three losses at semi-final stages, he appears to have found his mojo on the court he can quite literally call his home.
“It’s always amazing to play here, the new Chatrier is very nice,” the second seed said. “It’s been an important place in my career.
“I played a good tournament in Rome which was very important for my confidence. Now we’ll see.”
The 32-year-old Nadal raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening set before a second break of serve in the eighth game sealed it after just 40 minutes. He then dominated the second set and after a slight wavering of focus in the third, completed the victory
on his first match point.
Later in the day his rival Djokovic took over the court to start his bid to make “make history again” by collecting his fourth straight Grand Slam title.
Standing in his way was the Polish youngster Hubert Hurkacz who despite his valiant attempts, was unable to prevent the Serbian from claiming the match relatively easily 6-4 6-2 6-2.
The great Rod Laver is the only player to date to have done the calendar Grand Slam twice, namely collecting all four major titles in the same season. While Djokovic is attempting emulate the great Australian legend, if he succeeds in collecting his second French Open title this year, it will be a career grand slam, that is over two seasons.
“I put myself in a situation where I can actually make history of tennis again and obviously I have very high ambitions for this tournament,” said Djokovic of his ambition.
“It’s not a secret. But at the same time, it’s not the first time that I’m facing these kind of circumstances. It’s not the first Grand Slam in my career. I have played so many.
“I know it’s two weeks potentially long, and I just need to be in my lockdown mentally, and just do things that have worked for me in the past.”
A single break in the opening game of the match proved enough for Djokovic to take the first set, and the Serb raced through the second in under half an hour.
The 22-year-old Hurkacz, who has claimed three wins over top-10 players this season, had no answer as Djokovic sealed a second-round spot after another dominant set on his first match point.
“I’m focused, I’m determined, and sharp from the blocks. That’s what happened,” the Serb said. “Even though I never played him (before), never faced him in (an) official match, I still felt he can be a great threat if I allow him to play his tennis.”
Next up for Djokovic is Swiss world No 104 Henri Laaksonen for a place in the last 32.
“I don’t know too much about him, to be honest. I never played against him, and I did watch him play maybe once or twice,” he added. “I’m going to have to do my homework and see what happens.”
Meanwhile Austrian fourth seed and 2018 runner-up Domnic Thiem, who is expected to be a strong challenger to upset the two aforementioned favourites, defeated American wildcard Tommy Paul 6-4 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 to reach round two where he will face Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik who downed German qualifier Rudolf Molleker 7-5 6-7(4) 6-1 7-6(2).
Also in action was the former campion Stan Wawrinka who dropped a set against the Slovak Jozef Kovalik in a match which he was the overall dominant player. The 34-year-old went through 6-1 6-7(3) 6-2 6-3 on Court Simonne Mathieu in what was a hard-hitting contest.
The 2015 French Open winner Wawrinka, who slipped out of the world’s top 200 after injuries last year, is the 24th seed in Paris and will next face in-form Chilean Cristian Garin.
Elsewhere in the men’s event, Australian Alex De Minaur, seeded 21st, beat the USA’s Bradley Klahn 6-1 6-4 6-4, but the Georgian 15th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili fell to a surprising 6-4 6-1 6-3 thrashing at the hands of Argentinian world number 78 Juan Ignacio Londero with Russia’ 12th seed Daniil Medvedev joining him at the exit gates having bowed out to a local hero Pierre Hughes-Herbert 4-6 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5. Frances Tiafoe, the 32nd seed, was another early casualty losing to Serbia’s Filip Karjinovic 6-2 4-6 6-3 3-6 6-0.