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French Open: Biggies start with win

Wed 02 Jun 2021, 09:32:01
Paris: Rafael Nadal began his bid for a record-setting 21st Grand Slam title with a straight sets win at the French Open on Tuesday as the fallout from Naomi Osaka’s revelations over depression and anxiety sent shockwaves through Roland Garros.

Nadal, the 13-time champion in Paris, defeated 63rd-ranked Alexei Popyrin of Australia 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/3) to take his record at the tournament to 101 wins against just two losses.

“I was lucky to win that third set, I don’t know how (I did). The beginning of the match had been very tough too,” said Nadal, who had been 2-5 down in the third set, saving two set points.

Up next is fellow 34-year-old Richard Gasquet.

The pair first played one another when they were children. As professionals, Nadal leads 16-0.

The Spaniard’s opening win shifted the emphasis onto world number one, and potential semi-final opponent, Novak Djokovic who is chasing a second French Open title and 19th Grand Slam.

Djokovic was taking on 66th-ranked Tennys Sandgren in an evening session match-up.

World number one Ashleigh Barty marked her return to Paris for the first time since her 2019 title triumph by beating American left-hander Bernarda Pera 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 but admitted she was fighting a hip problem.

Barty, 25, skipped the defence of her title in 2020 due to the pandemic but this year has won trophies at the Yarra Valley Classic, Miami and on clay in Stuttgart in the run-up to Roland Garros.

After easing through the first set on Court Philippe Chatrier, Barty went off the boil in the second and called for the trainer at the changeover.

“I’m not going to hide behind the fact I’m not quite 100%,” said Barty whose left thigh was heavily strapped.

“But I can guarantee that I will go out there with the right attitude every day and be really accepting of that and give it a crack no matter what.”

Meanwhile, the fallout from Osaka’s withdrawal continued to be felt. The 23-year-old world number two, and four-time major winner, pulled out on Monday after she was fined $15,000 and threatened with disqualification for



refusing to attend press conferences.

Osaka claims traditional post-match media conferences are akin to “kicking people when they’re down” and were having a detrimental effect on her mental health.

She revealed she had been suffering bouts of depression since her 2018 US Open title breakthrough as well as anxiety attacks.

Her decision attracted widespread sympathy and accusations over the role of the media in the affair.

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina, a three-time quarter-finalist, recovered from a 2-5 second set deficit to beat French teenager Oceane Babel 6-2, 7-5.

Italian 37-year-old Andreas Seppi, playing in his 63rd successive Grand Slam, stunned 20th seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 7-6 (10/8), 4-6, 6-4.

For Seppi, it was a first win at any level this year.

Venus Williams, playing the tournament for the 24th time and a runner-up 19 years ago, saw her 89th Grand Slam end at the first hurdle as Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova eased to a 6-3, 6-1 win over the 40-year-old American.

Seventh seed Andrey Rublev said he was “unlucky” in his surprise five-set loss to Jan-Lennard Struff in the first round.

In-form Russian Rublev, who beat Rafael Nadal en route to the Monte Carlo Masters final earlier this season, fought back from two sets down before succumbing 6-3, 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4 in three hours and 46 minutes.

The 23-year-old, who had reached the quarter-finals in each of his previous three Grand Slam tournaments, was the third-highest seeded player in his half of the draw, behind Novak Djokovic and Nadal.

“Of course I was thinking that I would like to come back from 2-0 (down), but I don’t know, the fifth set I was a bit unlucky,” said Rublev.

“He’s a really tough opponent for the first round, really tough, plus he’s playing better and better.

“But I think I played good level. Was many good rallies, good intensity. Was really unlucky.”

Big-hitting German Struff will face Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis in the second round.




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