As Roger Federer reminded everyone on the first day, there are two weeks to go here in the French Open. Yet there is no quelling the rolling debate about who should be regarded as the favourite: Rafael Nadal, who has won La Coupe des Mousquetaires eight times, or Novak Djokovic, who is yet to trouble the engravers.
Both won yesterday, joining Federer in round two, and there was little to draw from either their performances or the scorelines, as their opponents were rendered almost equally stunned. However, there were other subtleties to divine.
Nadal rose above the perceived snub of being consigned to the secondary gladiatorial pit, named after Suzanne Lenglen, and poor Robby Ginepri was the opponent to feel the heat of his racket. The Spaniard's quick kill – 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 – arrived in the late-afternoon gloom not long after Djokovic, seeded behind the defending champion, held the main Court Philippe Chatrier captive to beat Joao Sousa with similar elan, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. The winners even wore the same-coloured shirts, fetching sky blue – of which there was little evidence above until early evening.
It is far-fetched to imagine that the tournament organisers were disrespecting their champion. Still, there were plenty of Spanish supporters who regarded his court allocation as a relegation. There are others, meanwhile, who regard Djokovic as the proper favourite. He has, after all, beaten Nadal four times in a row coming to Paris, most recently and relevantly on the clay of Rome. Five matches But he has lost all five matches against him here, agonisingly in five sets in last year's semi-final – history Federer considered pertinent when insisting Nadal should still be regarded as the man to beat.
All that said, it is the Serb who looks more relaxed going into the second round, where he plays Jeremy Chardy, Federer's conqueror in Rome. Nadal was his usual bundle of tics; Djokovic, smiling, invited one of the ballboys to share his courtside umbrella during a 10-minute rain break and revealed later: "I felt there's something I should do and make a new friend. He accepted the offer to sit down, which I didn't think he would do. I hope I see him at my next match."
Then, when a writer flippantly asked him if a gluten-free diet would improve his writing, Djokovic laughed and replied: "For a Nobel Prize? That's your goal? I will vote for you." Spitting drizzle There was little such levity elsewhere on a day of claustrophobic gloom and spitting drizzle. On court one, the Bull Ring, Kei Nishikori, newly installed in the top 10 after his heroics against Nadal in Madrid, went out in straight sets to Martin Klizan. Britain's James Ward emerged from his first-round match against the Spaniard Tommy Robredo encouraged by his shot-making but disappointed to lose in four sets, and now contemplating a pre-Wimbledon outing in Nottingham.
Robredo advanced after winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in just under three hours. Before the first break for rain, the tennis on court six reached a pleasingly high pitch, disturbed only by the most awful screeching – from a line judge whose eagerness to make herself heard would have done Maria Sharapova proud. Thereafter, in a string of artful exchanges, Ward and Robredo entertained the packed, small court all the way to the finish. Had Ward been able to force a fifth set, he might have turned a good match into a classic.
At one point Ward did not look keen to continue the third set as neither player could see the lines, which would have been dangerously slippery had they been brushed. The match followed a familiar pattern, with an early Robredo break at the start of the set, followed by Ward red-lining to stay in touch.
“I thought I played really well throughout the whole match,” Ward said. “But in the third he controlled the game. His forehand was really going off the court. I’ve been hitting the ball well all week from the back, and it showed today against a guy who bases his game at the baseline and moving people around.” Guardian Service