Nadal and Djokovic both off to a solid start in French Open
Big guns are scheduled to meet in the semi-final if they continue to progress
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during his first round match against Spain’s Marcel Granollers. The Serbian triumphed 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
For all the impatience in the game for the next generation to start grabbing the biggest prizes, the likelihood is that the established powers will prevail here again this year.
If the Spaniard can build on his encouraging start – a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 win against the French world No45, Benoît Paire, on Court Suzanne Lenglen in one hour 52 minutes – he is headed for a semi-final collision with Djokovic.
The Serb’s campaign began in similarly ominous fashion as he took just under two-and-a-half hours to win 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on the showpiece court, Philippe Chatrier, against Nadal’s compatriot Marcel Granollers, ranked 77.
Djokovic’s first match with Andre Agassi as coach could hardly have gone better, although he confirmed later it would be a short first stint.
“He’s going to stay I think – I hope – until the end of this week. Then he has to leave because he has some things that he cannot reschedule.”
However, Djokovic said, it has already been productive.
“So far we have plenty of information, plenty of things to process. This is exactly what I need at this moment, a person like him [who] understands the transitions as a tennis player and as a person, as well, going through lifestyle and certain choices that you make, how that affects you later on. He has been through that and he has a lot to share with me outside and inside of the tennis lines. I’m really enjoying it so far.”
Nadal remains the bookmakers’ choice to win his 10th title here, something no one on the men’s or women’s tours has done at any major in the open era, which began in 1968. Margaret Court (not everyone’s favourite Australian after an outburst against same-sex marriage last week) won 11 Australian titles straddling the transformation period but in the early days the tournament often did not attract the world’s best players.
The Spaniard warmed up for the La Décima challenge by getting to double figures in two of his other favourite clay tournaments, Barcelona and Monte Carlo, as well as his fifth in Madrid. Striving for an eighth Italian Open title, he suffered his only clay setback in 18 matches to that point, against the rising Dominic Thiem.
In the women’s draw home hope Kristina Mladenovic fought through the pain barrier with a 3-6 6-3 9-7 win over American Jennifer Brady. The 13th seed, hoping to become the first Frenchwoman to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup since Mary Pierce in 2000, said she hurt her back on Sunday and was not even sure she could make it on to Court Philippe Chatrier.
“I pulled my back yesterday and specialists were saying I needed 48 hours, I was almost sure I could not take it to court today,” said Mladenovic, who burst into tears after a two-hour-59-minute tussle. “It was not the best thing obviously but I promise you I will come back and will fight until the end.”
Mladenovic surrendered her serve meekly early on and received treatment after falling 3-0 down in the opener. She looked slightly better when back on court but still appeared to be moving slowly.
Mladenovic, among the favourites after reaching the final in Stuttgart and Madrid on clay this season, stepped up a gear in the second and managed to put her opponent, who reached the fourth round at this year’s Australian Open, on the back foot. She moved up a break three times in the decider but seemed to choke under pressure, eventually prevailing in the 16th game when her opponent dinked a forehand into the net. Guardian Service