French Open
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Novak Djokovic takes part in a training session at the Roland Garros stadium ahead of his first match at the French Open grand slam. Photo: dpa

French Open: Djokovic, Nadal launch Roland Garros bids as Swiatek puts streak on line

  • Djokovic plays Yoshihito Nishioka in the first of 10 night sessions, while Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, takes on Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in round one
  • In early women’s singles match China’s Wang Xinyu goes down 6-4 6-1 to Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus
French Open

Defending champion Novak Djokovic and 13-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal start their Roland Garros campaigns on a star-studded Monday, while women’s favourite Iga Swiatek begins her quest for a second title in three attempts.

Unseeded Naomi Osaka faces a tough first-round test as she returns to Paris a year on from her dramatic withdrawal after she was fined and threatened with a grand slam ban for refusing to honour media commitments.

In the opening women’s singles match, China’s Wang Xinyu suffered a tough loss to Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, going down 6-4, 6-1 within the space of 90 minutes. In the men’s singles, Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz passed his first test with flying colours, eliminating Juan Ignacio Londero after one hour and 50 minutes to reach the second round at the clay-court major.

Wang Xinyu of China plays Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in their women’s first round match during the French Open. Photo: EPA-EFE

Djokovic plays Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in the first of 10 night sessions – introduced at Roland Garros last year when a pandemic curfew saw most late matches played in front of empty stands. It is the world number one’s first grand slam match since his high-profile deportation from Australia. He won his first title of the year at the Italian Open earlier this month.

“I feel I am always in that contention to fight for any grand slam trophy,” said Djokovic, who is seeded to meet Nadal in the quarter-finals and Spanish teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the last four.

Djokovic’s last match at a major was his loss to Daniil Medvedev in last year’s US Open final, a defeat which denied the Serb a calendar grand slam.

Nadal has yet to win a title on his beloved clay this season, but played down concerns over the chronic foot issue that resurfaced in Rome.

“There is nothing to recover,” said Nadal who faces Australia’s Jordan Thompson.

“What happened in Rome is something that happened very often in my practices. I was suffering after that for a couple of days, but I feel better. That’s why I’m here.”

Rafael Nadal’s record at the French Open stands at a staggering 105 wins. Photo: dpa

Nadal began the year with a 20-match winning run, capturing a second Australian Open title to claim a record 21st grand slam and move ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer. The 35-year-old’s record at the French Open stands at a staggering 105 wins and just three losses since his 2005 title-winning debut.

Djokovic has been responsible for two of those defeats. One came in the bruising semi-final 12 months ago, the most recent clash of the pair’s epic 58-match rivalry.

Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, takes on Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in round one. The 20-year-old from Poland has swept aside all-comers and transformed herself into the player to beat in women’s tennis since the shock retirement of world number one Ashleigh Barty.

Swiatek has won her past five tournaments and is unbeaten in 28 matches dating back to Dubai in February. Her winning streak is the longest on the WTA tour since Serena Williams won 34 matches in a row in 2013.

“I’m aware that this streak is something that may be coming to an end soon, so I don’t want to be like heartbroken when it’s going to happen,” Swiatek said.

Two Chinese hopefuls in Zhu Lin and Qinwen Zheng kick-start their Roland Garros campaigns later today, with Qinwen up first to face Maryna Zanevska from 5pm Hong Kong time, while Zhu meets 25-year-old Russian Veronika Kudermetova at 8.15pm.

Naomi Osaka helped spark a conversation about athletes’ mental health when she pulled out of last year’s French Open with anxiety and depression. Photo: AP

Japanese superstar Osaka admitted she was “worried” over her return to the French Open, fearing she had “offended” people when she controversially quit the 2021 tournament.

Osaka, a former world number one and four-time major winner, then took a break from the sport, revealing she had been suffering bouts of depression.

“I’m not going to lie. Like when I first came here, I was very worried,” the 24-year-old said last week.

“I was just kind of worried that there were people that I offended some way and I would just kind of bump into them.”

She opens against American 27th seed Amanda Anisimova, a semi-finalist in 2019. Anisimova knocked Osaka out of the Australian Open in the third round this year.

Reigning women’s champion Barbora Krejcikova will play France’s Diane Parry in round. The Czech world number two has been sidelined by arm injury since late February and is yet to play on clay this year.