Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monday 23 May: As it happened

Aravane Rezai
9.30 pm: And there we go. "As it happens" becomes "As it happens" with Michael Berrer defeating Milos "star of the last four months" Raonic in four. And what a day we've had. Who would have thought that an unheralded Frenchman would win his first five-setter, first Roland Garros match and first success over anyone ranked above no.18 in the world by coming from two sets down against Tomas Berdych - last year's semi-finalist?

Tomorrow we have Rafa, Maria, Ana, Na Li, Andy and Robin so let's make a date to meet back here in about 13 hours' time. OK? Til then...

9.13 pm: One down, one to go. Marcel Granollers defeats qualifier Alex Bogomolov in four. Raonic and Berrer are locked at 3-3 in the fourth.
8.44 pm: So, what have we got left? Marcel "clay-courter" Granollers leads two sets to one over Alex "ex-husband of Ashley "Playboy" Harkleroad" Bogomolov while Milos "rocket" Raonic, who burst through the Aus Open qualifiers this year and went deep at Melbourne despite being ranked in the 150s at the time, is serving at a set apiece but 2-5 down to Michael Berrer.

8.31 pm: Heather Watson is through - 7-6, 6-1! British success! She'll have her work cut out against Kaia Kanepi next up mind, but that was a great performance from the Guernsey teenager.

8.21 pm: Caroline Wozniacki is through against Kimiko Date-Krumm in two games over the minimum. She'll now face (drum roll...) Aleksandra Wozniak! It's the Woz derby! Canadian Woz defeated Junri Namigata, 1 and 1. Sania Mirza also made it through to round 2, defeating Kristina Barrois 3 and 3.

8.07 pm: Poor Benny Paire couldn't quite outlast slick Vic. Victor Hanescu defeats wildcard Benoit Paire in four and will face the Djoker on Wednesday. Elsewhere Marcos Baghdatis, the Frenchiest of all Cypriots who trained just down the road for many a year, is two sets and a break up on Gil of 'Gal (Portu- of that ilk).

8.01 pm: Heather Watson saves set-points, takes it to a breaker and then steals it with a moonball followed by one that kisses the line. Bravo Miz Watson.

7.48 pm: Caro Woz bagels Kimiko Date-Krumm in the opener of a match moved to Centre Court, as befits a no.1 seed. However the match isn't really Chatriesque - more unforced errors than crisp winners. On no.5 meanwhile we have a battle royal - unheralded Frenchie Benoit Paire is locked in a fourth-set tie-break, fighting for his life against Victor Hanescu. More tie-breakage on no.6 between Stefanie Foretz and Heather Watson. Elsewhere Kaia Kanepi has defeated Sofia Arvidsson 7-5, 6-1 in the battle of the northern lights. The Estonian no.16 seed (who was ranked 100 spots lower this time last year and went through the qualies all the way to the Wimbledon quarters before losing to my little Pet Kvit) will face the winner of Stef - Heather.

7.15 pm: Gasquet wins in straight and increasingly comfortable sets. Ritchie is on form at the moment, and I wouldn't like to be either Bogomolov or Granollers, currently at 2-2 in the third but with the prospect of taking on the no.13 seed on Wednesday.

7 pm: Maria Kirilenko defeats Coco Vanderweghe, racing away with the second set after all the brouhaha in the first-set breaker which saw Coco ping a racquet off the dirt,

6.39 pm: Marion Bartoli is through in three sets! Well battled, Maid Marion. Next up she'll play qualifier Olga Govortsova, who defeated Agnes Szavay in three.

6.24 pm: Much clucking from Coq au Vinderweghe as she is called for a double hit, which gives Maria Kirilenko the first set in a tie-break. Ooh, and Marion is now a break up in the decider.

6.21 pm: Ritchie takes the first set, Marion the second. Allez les Bleus and no mistake.

5.58 pm: News from, or rather for the Great White North. Aleks Wozniak has breadsticked her way to the first set against Junri Namigata, but Frank "the dancer" Dancevic is two sets to one and 3-0 down to Simone "bello" Bolelli.

5.49 pm: Marion breaks back! 3-2 to Bartwoman. Another Frenchie, this one by marriage, Iryna Bremond (as opposed to Severine Beltrame who is no longer Madame Bremond...) is 4-0 up on Evgeniya Rodina. And Coco Vanderweghe is serving for the set against Maria Kirilenko in what would be a turn-up for the books. MaKiri is no.25 seed. And Coco Van is quite a dish ("As it happens", where the jokes never stop...)

5.35 pm: Ritchie and Steps is tight, 3-2 on service. Barto/Tatashvi-Li isn't. A set and a break up, the Georgian is. Marion is her usual bundle of bounces, trots, shadow swings etc but doesn't look to be moving around very well. Someone who is moving well is my little Pet Kvit - moving into the second round! Petra Kvitova defeats Greta Arn 6-2, 6-1 and the no.9 seed will face Zheng Jie, who defeated another Czech, Sandra Zahlavova 6-4, 6-3 earlier today.

5.12 pm: Ritchie Gasquet is getting under way against Radek Stepanek. The Frenchman has never bested Mr Nicole Vaidisova, though they have only met twice and never on clay. Ritchie beat Rog at Rome (for those of you needing practice pronouncing your Rs) 10 days ago en route to the semis, where that man Rafa beat him.
Elsewhere my little Pet Kvit took the opener 6-2, but ooh, take a look on Chatrier! After Aravane's demise, maybe her compatriot (and rival) Mademoiselle Bartoli will be following. Maid Marion is 4-1 down and being deuced up on service by unheralded Georgian and WTA no.106 Anna Tatishvili. Mazzer hurt her thigh in Strasbourg a few days ago and may be feeling the ill-effects thereof.

4.52 pm: Monfils is through, in four sets after bagelling the final set. He struggled early on - no doubt due to his lack of match practice after missing Madrid due to an allergic reaction to some cheese (I kid you not) and Rome through illness - but soon got into his stride.

4.46 pm: Monfils is on cruise control now, cruising and controlling, 4-0 up. Llodra isn't though - his opponent Steve Darcis has gone a diabolical 666, losing the opener 7-6 but taking the next two 6-3, 6-3. Mika is signed up to play mixed dubs with his erstwhile coach, the lovely Amelie Mauresmo - perhaps this will finally be the year that Ame wins Roland Garros...

4.36 pm: Here she is, my tip for the title, my little Pet Kvit. I say little, she's grown since last year and looks taller than me now so must have topped the six-foot mark. The no.9 seed is playing Greta Arn, who beat Sveta Kuz in Rome two weeks ago but is 37 places below her in the world. Kvitova, who trains at the same club as Mr and Mrs TBerd, is in the top 10 for the first time and is 6-0 on clay this year having won the WTA Premier in Madrid (and pulling out of Rome). She's 2-0 up already.

4.29 pm: 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(3) - that's how Roger Federer cruises into the second round, finishing Feliciano Lopez off with an ace. Smooth operator. He'll face unheralded Frenchie Maxime Teixeira in the second. A more heralded Frenchie however is Gael Monfils who has taken the third set 7-5 from boom boom Phau. If he wins, he'll play a local derby on Wednesday against rising star Guillaume Rufin.

4.14 pm: With a huge service, and after 3 hours 23 minutes, Stephane Robert defeats Tomas Berdych in five sets! He'll face Fabio Fognini in the second round after the greatest win of his career. He best win to date was over Ferrer when he was no.18. And he'd never won a five-setter! And never won a match at Roland. Wow.

4.12 pm: Mexican wave on court no.2 as Robert breaks! He has never beaten a top 10 player and never won a five-setter. And he's four points away!

3.56 pm: Robert saves a match point and takes it to 5-all. The crowd are going wild! He's permanently going to have to serve to stay in the match though from hereon in (unless he breaks of course!) Elsewehere Sabine Lisicki 6-0d the first set against the giant Uzbek Akgul Amanmuradova but it's 5-4 with service in the second. Fed meanwhile continues to stroll along the path to the second round. Feli crumbled for just one service game in the second and that was enough, so Rog now leads 6-3, 6-4, 2-3, under the watchful eye of Ms Vavrinec as was, Mrs Mirka Federer as is.

3.44 pm: Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire may well be about to arriver ! Gael Monfils has - as I predicted, nyerr nyerr, upped his game and taken the second set against boom boom Phau, while Stephane Robert has just broken back, broken back in the fifth. It's Musketeer time out there - all for one, and one 4-all.

3.35 pm: Around the grounds - Juan Martin del Potro defeated Ivo Karlovic in four loooong sets and will face Blaz "ouster of Ernie Gulbis" Kavcic on Wednesday. Clay-court bandeet par excellence Igor Andreev defeated Florent Serra in three, to set up another French lesson in the second round, this time with JW Tsonga. Mikhail Youzhny needed the minimum three sets to take out Go Soeda (great name) of Japan and the no.12 seed will face Mikhail Kukushkin who defeated Germany's Dany Brany, sorry Daniel Brands. No.15 seed and breaker of French Davis Cup hearts Victor Troicki 4, 4 and 3d Julian Reister in a top-half-of-the draw match, while there were also wins for Alejandro (took Roger to five sets at Wimbledon last year) Falla .

3.15 pm: Fed sneaks a break midway through the first and serves out to make it 6-3. Robert meanwhile was obviously reading my blog and has taken umbrage. He's also taken sets three and four off Tomas Safarova. TBerd leads 2-1 in the fifth but blimey, what a match this is! Less good news for the French contingent elsewhere with Steve Darcis 5-3ing Mika Llodra and Bjorn "Boom Boom" Phau (one for the Black Eyed Peas fans there) taking the opener 6-4 over Monfils. I'm not worried about LaMonf though - he always comes here short of match practice then crescendoes as the tournament progresses.

2.53 pm: Around the grounds. Vesna Dolonts defeats Anne Keothavong in three tight'uns after Annie K had treatment at 4-5 in the decider. Vesna will face Schiavone next up. Vera Zvonareva beat Lourdes Domingues Lino for the loss of just six games and the no.3 seed will face the winner of the Lisicki - Amanmuradova match which has just got under way. Edina Gallovits defeated Angelique Kerber in three and will face an Aussie in the second round after Anastasia Rodionova ousted no.26 seed Nadia Petrova 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4. And finally no.30 seed Roberta Vinci defeated fellow Italian Alberta Brianti by the symmetrical scoreline of 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. That's you all up to date.

2.48 pm: Some cracking tennis from Federer and Lopez already, Feli saving some early break points by out-slicing and out-dropping the Rogmeister. And Czech this out - Stephane Robert took the third and is a break up in the fourth over Tomas Berdych!

2.22 pm: Roger Federer - Feliciano Lopez. Out on Centre Court. Bring it on. Let's get ready to clicheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee... Ah, but poor old Tommy is out on his Haas. Marcel Ilhan defeats Tommy Haas in four. The lucky loser will face Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Guillermo Garcia Lopez) on Wednesday.2.14 pm: Sara Errani takes out Christa McHale 9-7 in the third, having been 5-0 down! Wow! She faces Dani Hani on Wednesday in the second round.And Stephane Robert is shoving my words down my throat by leading TBerd 3-1 in the third! What do I know? (Don't answer that!)

2.05 pm: Novak Djokovic demolishes Thiemo de Bakker 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. Whoosh. Less than two hours. I've been asked below in the comments why I think Rafa will have the edge on the Djoker over a five-set, seven-match tournament. Well if he can win all his matches in under two hours, I'm going to eat my words! I just think that Rafa has more five-set pedigree (but as is pointed out below by Tatjana, we all thought Rafa would beat him on clay and look what happened in Madrid and Rome? Djoker in straight sets. I'm sticking with Rafa for the moment but I'll happily bow to Tatjana when Nole wins the final 7-5, 6-3, 7-5).

2.02 pm: Wow. After coming back from 2-5 down in the first set, 18-year-old US of American Christa McHale (who battled her way through the qualifiers in Rome) went 5-0 up in the decider, then lost the next six to Italy's Sara Errani (whose eyes are as blue as Vera Dushevina's) before holding to stay alive. Sara's just broken to make it 8-7 however and will serve for the match, but there may be a twist or turn (maybe even both) afore the match is out.

1.45 pm: Dolonts (Manasieva as was) outlasts Keothavong (GB no.1 as was) in a second-set tie-break then breaks to open the decider. Ooh, then Annie K, in an orangey-clay-y-coloured dress, breaks right back at ya. DelPo meanwhile sneaks in the second break of the match in game 11 of the third set and takes the tertiary stanza (i.e. third set) to lead two sets to one. That's one hell of a match-up for the first round, that is. And TBerd is cruising, 6-3, 6-3 over French qualifier Stephane Robert. Steph's won one Grand Slam match in his life, at the 2010 AO. He's never beaten a top 10 player or won a five-setter. So he's unlikely to come roaring back here...

1.05 pm: Vera Zvonareva is 3-1 up on Lourdes Dominguez Lino. She's not much of a clay-courter is Bepa (Vera looks like BEPA when you write it in Cyrillic) but she has made the final of two Slams in her career (Wimbledon and the US last year, hence her ranking). She'll be interesting to watch this week (and hopefully she'll be able to keep her legendarily fluctuating emotions in check).

1.02 pm: Djoker takes the opener 6-2. Cruising. Dolents has broken so may take Anne Keothavong to a decider, and Marcel Ilhan has broken to lead 4-2 in the third set after Tommy Haas-ndsome won the second. Tomas Berdych - a semi-finalist here last year - is also just starting his match, more on him later.

12.54 pm: JMdP takes the second set 6-3 over Dr Ivo - a break of serve and a set in less than an hour, whoda thunk?! Nole meanwhile is cruising, 4-2 over De Bakker. It'll be interesting to see how Nole copes with five-setters (he's obviously played them before but 30 of his 37-0 start to the year were best-of-three. My money's still on Nadal for the tournament since it's best of five, and Nole might tie if someone takes him to four or five in any of the rounds leading up to the final. I also have Ferrer making the semis and not Federer...
Meanwhile Daniela Hantuchova has defeated Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-3. The no.28 seed will face 2010 Rome champion, lefty serve-and-volleyer Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez next up.

12.33 pm: Centre Court now has Novak "37-0" Djokovic versus Thiemo "same hotel as me here in Paris" de Bakker. This is their first meeting. TdB is 3-8 on clay this year - a year ago he was a real up-and-coming star but he seems to be stuck around no.70 in the world.
And ooh, Aravane is out. Bye bye Rezai. Irina Begu defeats Aravane Rezai 6-3, 6-3. The last game was painful to watch - Irina too nervous to serve, Aravane to nervous to return. We had a moonball rally (like the Gumball Rally, only with more air) and then Aravane sent a backhand about halfway down the net. Poor girl - she's mentally shot. Begu meanwhile will face 2009 winer Sveta Kuznetsova.

12.21 pm: Second winner of the day - qualifier Nuria Llagostera Vives defeats lucky loser Anastasia Pivovarova 6-3, 6-0. More loser than lucky, was Nastya. Nuria faces Alize Cornet next up.

12.12 pm: First winner of the day - Francesca Schiavone routs Melanie Oudin 6-2, 6-0. The reigning champion will face the winner of Keothavong - Dolonts, with Anne having taken the opener 6-3. Apart from the game to take the first set where Franny suddenly lost her radar, she was on imperious form today. Gone in 60 minutes. What also took an hour was the first set between John Martin of the Pot and Dr Ivo, and the marginally taller of the two (Karlovic) took the breaker 9-7. Settle in there fans, that one's going the distance. These two are in Djokovic's bracket as well and the winner could face Nole in the third round.

11.49 am: Anne and Vera do the two-step. Keothavong leads 2-0, Dolonts (formerly Manasieva) breaks back to2-2, Anne breaks again to make it 4-2. I saw Anne's brother this morning while I was out jogging - James is an umpire, and I must have jogged past the umps' hotel as two minutes later, I saw the lovely Eva Asderaki. All I needed was a Kader or a Mo and I'd have had a full house.
Back on court, we have Begu breaking again to take the opener 6-3 and Tommy Hilfiger, sorry Haas, breaking back and serving at 3-5 (so Ilhan will still have a chance to serve for the set, but good to see recently-married Tommy getting back into his stride).

11.40 am: 6-2 Schiavone in the blink of an eye. The only game she struggled with was the eighth one, which went via thre deuces and four missed set points, and up until then she was looking very good out there. Will she kiss the clay again today like she started doing towards the end of her run last year? Probably a tad early for that. And it was almost another 6-2, this one's for Begu after she broke Aravane again, but Ms Rezai broke back straight away. Allez Aravane !
Another struggling big name is Tommy Haas, back after injuring but still struggling for fitness and 1-5 down to Marcel Ilhan, a perpetual fringe-top-100, always has to qualify type of player. Poor Tommy, who's now a US citizen, dontcha know?
The battle of the big-hitters on no.1 is going with service at the moment, 3-4, Del Potro serving, "Doctor" Ivo Karlovic returning. More on that one later.

11.15 am: Schiavone breaks to open! World no.5 versus no.88 here. They've met twice on clay and share a win apiece, both in Fed Cup action. It'll be interesting to see how Franny does this year at Roland Garros - whether she can handle the weight of expectation as defending champion. She wasn't strong in Rome 10 days ago when the pressure of the centre court crowd got to her - she lost to Sam Stosur (whom she beat in the final here last year) in straight sets.
Someone else broken to open is Aravane Rezai, who is 2-0 down to Romania's Irina Begu. These two have never met before. Aravane was no.15 in the world seven months ago but has been through real turmoil with some family issues since then and various changes of coach, and she's down to no.41. I'd love her to have a good showing here - she won the Premier tournament in Madrid 12 months ago on clay after all.

11 am: Good morning one and all, and welcome to day two of the 2011 French Open! We eased ourself into the tournament yesterday but today it's all systems go. Schiavone, Djokovic, Federer and Del Potro - how's that for starters? My fingers are going to be melting by the end of the day! So to keep me company, get writing in down there in the comments section and let me know if you think there will be any upsets today. How about Lopez to beat Federer? Boom, right at ya, just like that. I don't think it'll happen but you never know... I'm looking forward to seeing Petra Kvitova later on on no.2 court - she could go all the way (you heard it here first).

Wozniacki leads top seed stroll on Day 2

Caroline Wozniacki
Just last week Caroline Wozniacki earned her first title on red clay in Brussels. This evening her devastating form continued on Court Philippe Chatrier as she swatted aside Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-0, 6-2 with exactly one hour on the clock. The Dane, who has picked off four tour titles this year, has only faced 40 year-old Krumm once in her career. That was at Wimbledon in 2009 where she won the three set tussle. Today's encounter was a different story. Wozniacki may have been sporting heavy strapping to her left leg but it did little to hinder her movement. Meanwhile, Date-Krumm struggled with the 20-year-old's pace of shot and played a game riddled with unforced errors - she notched up 28 compared to Wozniaki's nine. Other seeds that moved comfortably through the draw included no.9 Petra Kvitova who secured a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Hungarian Greta Arn, while no.12 Agnieszka Radwanska earned a second round spot with a swift 6-1, 6-2 victory over Patricia Mary-Achleitner. Nadia Petrova became the highest seed to exit the women's event today when she bowed out to Aussie Anastasia Rodionova. Despite clinching the first set on a tie-break, the Russian was unable to sustain her form and lost 7-6 (5), 3-6, 4-6 in a match that spanned a staggering two hours and 21 minutes. The only other seed to fall at the first hurdle was no.31 Klara Zakopalova who lost to Yung-Jan Chan 5-7, 1-6.
Elsewhere, 6-3, 6-3 appeared to be the most popular scoreline of the day with five matches finishing this way including France's Aravane Rezai's. Her Roland Garros hopes were cruelly dashed on Suzanne Lenglen Court by Irina-Camelia Begu. "I'm really disappointed to have lost," Rezai said. "I would have liked to win this match but to me it's a great victory to be on the court and to fight the way I fought today and to stay positive from A-Z and throughout my practice as well."
Russian third seed Vera Zvonareva then followed suit by stepping out on the same court, where she defeated Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino with an identical score. India's Sania Mirza enjoyed a 6-3, 6-3 win over Kristina Barrois, as did Jill Craybas who defeated Grecian Eleni Dandilidou and Daniela Hantuchova, no.28, who overcame China's Shuai Zhang. However, Hantuchova wasn't overly impressed with her performance. "I know I could have played much better," she said. "At the same time, I just did what I needed to do today. It was a good test for me . I'm feeling very good, especially in practice, and also last week I was playing some good tennis. Hopefully my form can just go higher."

Match of the day: Rafael Nadal (ESP) (1) v John Isner (USA

Match of the Day: 23 May 2011
As he sets out to equal Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open titles, Rafael Nadal cursed his luck when Ana Ivanovic picked out John Isner's name at the draw. The trickiest of first round opponents, Isner may have no great pedigree on clay but his mighty serve and booming groundstrokes can trouble the best, on any surface, at any time.

Beatable Nadal?
Nadal has lost some of his aura on clay in recent weeks. Previously virtually unbeatable on the red dirt, the man with a 38-1 record in Paris has suffered successive straight-sets defeats to Novak Djokovic, first in the final at Madrid and then at the same stage in Rome. Those losses speak volumes, mostly of Djokovic's sensational progress in recent months, but also of Nadal's inability to overpower an adversary on clay, something he has been doing ruthlessly and relentlessly throughout his career.

The Majorcan's invulnerability on the surface has been built around his incredible energy and speed, backed up by the wicked top spin he puts on the ball, particularly on the forehand side. Opponents usually find themselves on the back foot, leaning back as the ball kicks up at them. They are often pushed back behind the baseline too, and in the case of right-handers, regularly end up retrieving the ball above chest height on their backhand.

When an opponent does get on the front foot and dominate a rally, Nadal's brilliant defensive skills, allied with huge reserves of energy often mean he chases balls down and turns the point around. That Djokovic, by stepping into the court, taking the ball early and taking more risks with his forehand managed to stop Nadal from dictating proceedings will give hope to others, starting with his first round opponent here.

Historic Isner
Isner is assured a place in tennis history come what may. Famous for his marathon three-day victory over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon last year in 11 hours five minutes of play, Isner finally prevailed 70-68 in the fifth set, serving 113 aces in all.

That world record number of aces is the revealing stat from that freak encounter. Isner stands 6'9" in his socks and booms down massive serves from all angles at a height that makes him incredibly difficult to break. Clay's decelerating qualities would normally take the edge off his opening salvo, but less so this year. The new Babolat balls are bouncing higher off the Paris red earth, which has been baked harder than ever before in the drought-like conditions this year. Isner's favourite weapon should serve him well again here.

The American's game is not all about his service either. His forehand is crunching and his ability to get around the court despite his considerable frame remarkable. His fitness, as shown in that match with Mahut, has improved considerably and he is a cool customer too, not likely to crumble should he get his nose in front. Whether he can return well enough to carve out break points against Nadal remains to be seen, but an exciting match is definitely in prospect.

Del Potro, Djokovic move toward showdown

High ball? No problem!
Novak Djokovic began Roland Garros the way he ended Rome, playing near perfect tennis and routing Thiemo De Bakker 6-2 6-1 6-3 in the first round.

Djokovic scored his 38th straight win since the start of the 2011 and is just one win form playing another Grand Slam winner after Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro took out Ivo Karlovic 6-7(7), 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

The world no.2 would surely be favored in that match, but Del Potro, who reached the semis in Paris two years ago, has the weapons to hurt him on a great day. The question is, if the Serb continues to play at the level that has seen him take down five times Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal in four finals this year, including twice on clay courts, will Del Potro be able to stand in and fight off a man who is kissing the corners seemingly at will?

"It was a great first match for me at Roland Garros," said the now 24-year-old Djokovic. "I was serving, really, really serving and being very aggressive. Pressure is always there, over the years you learn how to deal with it. I know there is a lot of expectation because of the streak I have but I'm really happy the way I'm handling things right now on and off the court."

Del Potro was also impressive, not losing his composure after he lost the first set tiebreaker to the 6'10" Karlovic. He began to return with more authority, served and moved well for a man who is 6'6" himself and largely dominated play from the backcourt.

Del Potro, who made a last minute decision to fly to Roland Garros after sustaining a hip injury in Madrid, was pleased with his performance.

"It was really tough match," he said. "It's difficult to play against Karlovic, because you don't have many chance to break his serve, but I made a good match. I was focused in the beginning to the final, and I got through it. I had to be patient. I had to wait for the right moment. When it came, I managed to go for it."

Del Potro is seen more of a dark horse pick than a flat out favorite as only Nadal and Djokovic have consistently gone deep at the big events this year, but for the first time this year, he's thinking that maybe his level is good enough to be called one of the favorites. Del Potro has been tempering the expectations for his results as he spent most of 2010 out with a wrist injury.

"It's good to be part of a small group of favorites," he said. "Yet I am very much aware of my present condition. I need to take a rest. I need to recover from a physical standpoint. This is the most important."

Most of the other seeds got through on the day, but France's Stephane Robert shocked no.6 and 2010 semifinalist Tomas Berdych 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 9-7, while Belgium's Steve Darcis upended no.22 Michael Llodra 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3 6-3.

France's Richard Gasquet played well in dispatching Czech veteran Radek Stepanek 7-5 6-3 6-0, and seeds Gael Monfils, Nikolay Davydenko, Janko Tipsarevic, Thomaz Bellucci, Mikhail Youzhny and Viktor Troicki also got through.

While three young American women all went down, US veteran and tenth seed Mardy Fish pounded his way past Ricardo Mello 6-2, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. Fish has never had much success at Roland Garros, but is in much better condition than he was two years ago, is a smarter player and believes he can stick in with anyone on any surface if he plays his game. That doesn't mean that he thinks he can win the tournament, but is does mean he thinks he can compete.

"It was pretty close to three hours, if it wasn't three hours," Fish said. "I felt fine. Physically it wasn't an issue. And it can't be an issue if you want to win some matches here. Not everything is going to go exactly according to plan on this surface. Right now [my goal] is to just get to the third round. I've never done that before her. Just by the changes that I've made and the sacrifices that I've made and the work ethic has changed, I set out to try to do some things that I've never done before at the French Open, win two rounds and put myself in this position and go from there. It doesn't sound like a mentality probably of a top 10 player, but it's mine here."

Contrasting careers encapsulated as Federer cruises past

Rumours of Roger Federer's demise have been greatly exaggerated. The no.3 seed eased his way into the tournament in the most satisfying of fashions on Monday afternoon, finding a way past Feliciano Lopez on Philippe Chatrier Court with a minimum of fuss. The 16-time Grand Slam winner prevailed 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(3) in 1hr 59 minutes and can now look forward to a second-round encounter with French wildcard Maxime Teixeira.

The fans were treated to a vintage display from the Swiss legend, who was never troubled and went though his usual panoply of shots, from aces (12 in all) to outrageously sliced drop shots and everything in between. Lopez flattered to deceive, playing some lovely tennis of his own without ever managing to force Federer into a corner.

At the very peak of professional sport, the margins between the greats and the journeymen can be fine, at least to the untrained eye. To the casual observer there was little to choose between Federer and Lopez today. Throughout the match there were long stretches when it was hard to detect which player was arguably the greatest ever to have graced the game, and which was the nearly man, whose career has been spent around the edges of the top 30 players of his generation.

Both 29-year-olds are blessed with impressive physiques, exceptional athleticism and languid playing styles that are pleasing to the eye. Both are capable of firing crowd-delighting winners off either wing, from anywhere on court. They are sure and true overhead and fire aces left and right. Today, both were also guilty of the odd glaring error, the kind that would have the average club player hanging his head in shame.

What separated the two in the end was what has separated them throughout their parallel tennis lives, namely the knack Federer has of raising his game a notch at crucial times - nothing too much, just enough to knock his opponent off his stride and grab the momentum.

Whenever he needed a break in each of the first two sets and, inevitably, to round things up in the third set tie-break, the Swiss Maestro applied the pressure. Each time Lopez would find himself forced into a riskier shot than necessary, into an error, or watching as a Federer ace flew past. So it was in the tie-break, as the Spaniard handed Federer a match point with a double fault, a gift he gratefully accepted with, you've guessed it, an ace of his own.

Federer was clearly pleased with his display: "I feel relieved when I look at the score or the match after playing three tiebreaks in Madrid against him. It's definitely slower than Madrid. So I think Feliciano was maybe not getting the free points, you know, he was looking and hoping for. The important thing from my side was to be solid in my own serve, which I was all the way through from start to finish, and I thought I played a good match."

He may be down to no.3 in the world, but Federer is not about to let Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic disappear off into the distance without putting up a fight…

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: ''I’d go fishing with Rafael Nadal''

Local hero
Our "choose a player" feature reveals the fun, friendly side of the stars appearing at this year's French Open. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a favourite with his home crowd, is today's willing participant.

Which player would you choose…

To share a good bottle of wine with?
(Thinks for a while) Mika Llodra, he knows his stuff.

To take to your favourite restaurant?
Kei Nishikori, because my favourite restaurant is Minori in Paris. It's a great Japanese restaurant. I'll show him that French sushi is better than Japanese sushi (laughs).

To accompany you to the Cannes film festival?
Ana Ivanovic. She would be great arm candy.

To play in a film with?
David Ferrer. He'd play Forrest in Forrest Gump, and I'd play Bubba, his shrimp fishing friend.

To go out on the town with in Las Vegas?
La Monf' (Gaƫl Monfils), no question about it.

To play in a band with?
Dustin Brown, that would be great. We'd make beautiful reggae.

As master of ceremonies for your wedding?
Novak Djokovic, he would be great at that.

To take to a football match?
Jurgen Melzer. I played football with him in the United States, and he's really good. He loves it.

To go and see stand-up comedy with?
Andy Roddick.

To take fishing?
Rafael Nadal.

To open a bar with?
Marat Safin. Once night falls he's the guy to hang around with.

Sizzling Schiavone ousts Oudin

Defending champion
Defending Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone began her French Open campaign with a convincing 6-2, 6-0 win over America's Melanie Oudin. The no.5 seed, who famously kissed the clay when she earned her first Grand Slam title here last year at the age of 29, produced a solid performance to see off world no.88 Oudin in a match that took just 62 minutes. The women are no strangers, having met on three previous occasions with Schiavone leading the head-to-head 2-1. However, it was the American who won their last encounter during the 2010 Fed Cup Final in straight sets. Today Schiavone was fresh for revenge and opened the day's play as she meant to go on despite the sweltering conditions on Philippe Chatrier Court. The Italian set the pattern of the match by breaking her 19-year-old opponent in the opening game and followed it up with textbook tennis.
Milan-born Schiavone served up deft drops shots, sizzling slices and ferocious forehand winners to wrong-foot Oudin, who frequently looked at her camp with despair. The defending champion soon raced into a 5-2 lead but then suffered a brief attack of nerves, failing to capitalise on four set points, one with a double fault, but eventually regained composure to close out the first set at the fifth attempt.
That momentary lapse of form was soon put behind her as Schiavone rattled through the second set without dropping a game, hitting 25 winners throughout the match compared with Oudin's six. And there was no doubt the 30-year-old looked comfortable on the red stuff. "[There was]a lot of adrenaline. I felt really happy to be there," Schiavone said after the match. "That court is fantastic, because it is compact. The court is perfect. Everything is going around you and it is like when you go home and your Mum does everything for you and you feel comfortable? I felt like this." Oudin is also convinced the Italian is a definite contender for the title. "She is serving well; she's moving well; she pretty much doesn't have a weakness on the clay. I can see how she won the French Open last year," she added.
Schiavone will face Vesna Dolonts in the second round as she bids to repeat her 2010 success, when she became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam. That victory also enabled her to become the second Italian after Flavia Penetta ever to rank in the top 10 and she became the first ever in the top five after this year's Australian Open.