Sharapova struggles as Nadal and Djokovic cruise

Maria Sharapova almost became the first women’s top seed in French Open history to lose in the opening round on Wednesday as Rafael Nadal showed her the way to master a Roland Garros sandstorm.

As a vicious swirling wind, which turned the famous clay courts into a dustbowl, replaced the torrential downpours of the previous day, Russian golden girl Sharapova toiled for two-and-a-half hours before squeezing past teenage compatriot and world number 104 Evgeniya Rodina 6-1, 3-6, 8-6.

Sharapova, who needs a French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam, served up 17 double faults and twice had to serve to stay in the match.

“It’s dry and you’ve got sand blowing in your face. So it feels like a hard court, but then you feel like you’re in a desert,” said the world number one, who was a semifinalist here in 2007.

“Apart from eating and breathing sand, it was great.”

Sharapova will take on American qualifier Bethanie Mattek for a place in the last 32.

Her closest rival for the title, second seed Serb Ana Ivanovic, cruised into the third round with a 6-1, 6-2 win over the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova.

Ivanovic, a semifinalist in 2007, next plays Danish 30th seed Caroline Wozniacki.

Triple men’s champion Nadal extended his perfect Roland Garros record as he took a step closer to emulating Bjorn Borg as the only four-in-a-row winner.

The 21-year-old Spaniard notched up his 22nd win in 22 matches here and his 109th win in his last 111 clay-court career outings with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 opening-round victory over Brazilian qualifier Thomaz Bellucci, a match that had been scheduled for Monday.

The second seed, who has defeated Roger Federer in the last two finals, will now face French qualifier Nicolas Devilder for a place in the last 32.

“The conditions were very bad and the wind was terrible,” said Nadal.

“I had to wait two days because of the rain and could only practice for 20 minutes, so it’s difficult to come on to the court and find a good rhythm.”

Third seed Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion, wasted no time in reaching the third round with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 win over Miguel-Angel Jaen of Spain, the world 264.

He will play American wildcard Wayne Odesnik of the United States for a spot in the last 16.

“It’s always good to have easy matches in the tournaments like this one,” said Djokovic.

“It’s a really long tournament, and if you have a chance to play a short match to save the energy, that’s great.”

Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 champion and 23rd seed, was a first-round casualty when he pulled out injured against Brazil’s Marcos Daniel.

The Spaniard won the first set 7-6 (7/5) and was 2-2 in the second when he called it quits with a thigh injury.

Also going out was the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych, the 11th seed, who was beaten in the second round by French left-hander Michael Llodra 6-3, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Australia’s 25th seed Lleyton Hewitt showed no signs of his recent hip injury when he brushed aside France’s Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the second round.

The former world number one will next face America’s Mardy Fish.

Also safely through to the second round are Spanish fifth seed David Ferrer and former world number one Marat Safin of Russia, while 10th-seeded Briton Andy Murray reached the last 32 with a 6-4, 6-0, 6-4 win over Argentina’s Jose Acasuso and will next face Spanish claycourter Nicolas Almagro.

In the women’s draw, American fifth seed and 2002 champion Serena Williams eased past French wildcard Mathilde Johansson 6-2, 7-5 to reach the third round.

However, French ninth seed Marion Bartoli, last year’s Wimbledon runner-up, was knocked out in the first round by Australia’s Casey Dellacqua 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-2.

Dellacqua faces another Frenchwoman, Nathalie Dechy, for a place in the last 32.—AFP

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