French Open: Rafael Nadal wins first match in record bid; Ash Barty manages injury
PARIS -- Rafael Nadal’s bid for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title started with a straight-set victory at the French Open.
Nadal twice was a point from dropping the third set against Alexei Popyrin but eventually held on there and wound up winning the first-round match at Court Philippe Chatrier 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
Nadal has now won 26 consecutive sets at Roland Garros dating to the 2019 final that he won. He won last year’s title at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament for his record-extending 13th trophy in Paris. That also allowed him to tie Roger Federer for the men’s record with 20 major singles championships.
At the mercy of Bernarda Pera’s deep groundstrokes and struggling with her moves, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty gave the impression that her return to Roland Garros would be short-lived.
In ideal playing conditions on the sun-kissed Court Philippe Chatrier, Barty was often left stranded on the red clay by the big shots of her American rival.
But two years after claiming the French Open title, the top-ranked Australian fought hard enough to overcome the challenge and eventually prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-2
As Pera lost her focus and hit 19 unforced errors in the deciding set, Barty made up for her lack of mobility with clever combinations of lobs and angled shots. She played with her left thigh bandaged and received medical treatment after Pera leveled at one-set apiece.
“I just keep fighting, I just keep trying,” Barty said after improving her three-set match record to 12-2 this year.
Barty decided not to defend her title last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the buildup to the French Open, she played 13 matches on clay, winning 11. But she was forced to retire in the quarterfinals in Rome because of an injury to her right arm, raising concerns about her condition ahead of the tournament in Paris.
“It’s going to be a little bit tough this week,” she said. “I think over the weekend we had a bit of a flare-up through my left hip, which obviously just needed a bit of help today, needed some assistance to try and release it off as best I could.”
American teenager Coco Gauff won her first match as a seeded player at any Grand Slam tournament.
The 17-year-old Gauff erased set points before pulling out the opening tiebreaker and went on to beat Aleksandra Krunic 7-6 (11), 6-4. Gauff next faces Wang Qiang, who happens to be the woman she beat in straight sets in the final of the Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, Italy, on Saturday.
That gave Gauff — who also won the doubles title there — her first clay-court singles title and pushed her up to No. 25 in the WTA rankings. That career best made Gauff the youngest American woman to make her Top 25 debut since Serena Williams in 1998. Gauff is seeded 24th at Roland Garros.
Venus Williams was runner-up at Roland Garros against her sister 19 years ago but has now lost her opening match at the clay-court major for the fourth year in a row.
The American veteran’s 24th appearance at the French Open ended in a 6-3, 6-1 defeat against Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia.
The seeded players in the women’s draw scheduled early in the day got off solid starts. Fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina trailed 5-2 in the second set but beat wild card Oceane Babel 6-2, 7-5. Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady breezed past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-3 to reach the second round and match her best performance at the French Open.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova pulled out of the tournament because of an ankle injury. Kvitova said she fell and hurt her ankle during “post-match press requirements” after her first-round victory on Sunday. The 11th-seeded Kvitova saved a match point before coming back to beat Greet Minnen 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-1.
In the men’s draw, No. 1 Novak Djokovic improved to 17-0 in first-round matches at Roland Garros by beating Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in just under two hours on Tuesday night. Djokovic saved all six break points he faced and compiled a total of 33 winners in the last match of the clay-court tournament’s first round.
Up-and-coming Aslan Karatsev beat American Jenson Brooksby 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and was joined in the second round by 14th-seeded Gael Monfils.
Seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev was knocked out in the first round, losing 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4 to Jan-Lennard Struff.
Earlier, play was briefly delayed on Court Simonne-Mathieu following a bomb scare near the stadium that turned out to be a false alarm, according to French police. A security perimeter was quickly set up as spectators and tournament employees were forced to enter the venue via another access.
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