Rafael Nadal moved into the second round of the French Open ultimately with stunning nonchalance yesterday, while high winds and a grand slam debutante threatened to trip up Maria Sharapova at the first hurdle.
Russia's Maria Sharapova serves to compatriot Evgeniya Rodina during their French Open match at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris yesterday. Sharapova prevailed 6-1, 3-6, 8-6.
Nadal could hardly be any more at home on Court Philippe Chatrier if he wore carpet slippers, and the three-time defending champion barely broke sweat after a tight first set in his rain-interrupted match with Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.
Held over at 1-1 in the first set after Tuesday's downpours, the Spaniard dashed past the south American qualifier 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 and awaits more eager prey in round two in the shape of France's Nicolas Devilder.
"You never know what can happen, I am just trying to do my best. It's always hard in the first round," the 21-year-old Spaniard said in a courtside interview after extending his Roland Garros career record to 22-0.
While Nadal reflects on his win, Sharapova will be wondering how she is not booking grasscourts for extra practice ahead of Wimbledon.
The top seed was two points way from defeat against Evgeniya Rodina before prevailing 6-1, 3-6, 8-6 in two hours and 28 minutes of windswept, frustrating action on Centre Court.
No women's top seed has bowed out at the first hurdle in Paris since the sport turned professional in 1968, and for spells it looked like Rodina, making her grand slam bow, and the blustery conditions would upend Sharapova.
"I just hung in there," said the Russian, who could complete her career grand slam set in Paris next week.
"It was far from my best tennis today but you try to learn from your mistakes. Not many things were working for me today."
Unfortunately for former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero one of the things not working for him was his right leg.
The 2003 winner was a set up and 2-2 against Brazilian journeyman Marcos Daniel when he called it a day, making it the first time he had failed to pass the first round of a red clay tournament.
"At the moment, I don't know exactly what the problem is," said the deflated Spaniard.
"Doctors tell me they know, and they told me they could cure it. But at the end of the day, it still hurts."
Serbian third seed Novak Djokovic stole a march on his rivals by booking a place in the third round for the loss of just five games against Spaniard Miguel Angel Lopez Jaen.
While Nadal was completing his first-round win and top seed Roger Federer was learning that Spaniard Albert Montanes would be his second-round opponent, Australian Open champion Djokovic needed just 80 minutes to book his last-32 place with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 win.
Australian 25th seed Lleyton Hewitt prospered with the sun on his back, sending another home hope crashing with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over Nicolas Mahut.
Seeds David Ferrer and Radek Stepanek also enjoyed comfortable first-round progress.
Marat Safin set up a mouthwatering last-64 clash with fellow Russian Nikolay Davydenko after coming from a set down to beat Monaco's Jean-Rene Lisnard.
"It's going to be an interesting match," said Safin, who won the last three sets for the loss of six games. "We're going to be nervous.
"We don't want to lose to each other. Let's see who will be stronger," the brooding 2002 semifinalist ominously forecast.
French No. 1 Marion Bartoli said she needed a break from tennis after suffering a demoralizing first-round exit.
"I'm just fed up. I'm going to turn off my mobile phone, turn off my TV set, forget about Roland Garros," the ninth-seeded Bartoli told reporters after her 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Australian Casey Dellacqua.
"I'm going to try not to think about it. Go far away, very far away. Why not take a short break, some holidays?"
Bartoli, who reached the Wimbledon final last year, said she was too worn out to start her preparation for the grasscourt grand slam that brought her to prominence.
"Since the beginning of this year I've been playing and I felt tired and I thought, well, this is probably psychological, but it's five months I've been feeling this, in this state, being very tired," she said.
"So I'll probably start practising for the season on grass, but I first want to think about myself."
(Agencies via Shanghai Daily May 29, 2008)