Novak Djokovic meets Victor Hanescu in the French Open second round on Wednesday aiming to prove to stuttering rival Rafa Nadal that he is ready to steal his crown.
Top seed Nadal, bidding for a sixth Roland Garros title in seven years, endured his first five-set match on the Paris clay on Tuesday when he battled back to beat giant American John Isner.
“When I had the break and when I won the fourth, I know in the fifth [there] is no tiebreak. So I felt a little bit more confident for that,” Nadal told reporters, highlighting a strength but also a weakness that players such as Djokovic will try to exploit.
World number two Djokovic, who has won 38 straight matches this year including two final victories over Nadal on clay, had no such problems in Monday’s demolition of Thiemo De Bakker and Romanian Hanescu is the Serbian’s next prey.
Record grand-slam title holder Roger Federer still has a part to play and he has an early start on court Suzanne Lenglen against little-known Frenchman Maxime Teixeira, who may still generate a wave of support.
Women’s top seed Caroline Wozniacki takes on Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada in a second-round clash while defending champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy is last on centre court against Russia’s Vesna Dolonts.
Bright sunshine is forecast in western Paris throughout Wednesday when the spectator galleries will be thronging again.
It’s great to be back
Kim Clijsters admitted it was great to be back at Roland Garros for the first time in five years, a return marked by a straight sets win in the French Open first round.
The Belgian second seed, whose last appearance ended in a semifinal defeat to compatriot Justine Henin in 2006, looked decidedly rusty on her claycourt return before seeing off Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus 6-2, 6-3.
But the 27-year-old, a two-time finalist and who already has the US and Australian Opens under her belt, insists the old hunger is still there.
“I’m even more excited,” said Clijsters, whose first final appearance in Paris was 10 years ago against Jennifer Capriati.
“I was really looking forward to it. I remember that I played some matches on Suzanne Lenglen court. I remember that I didn’t really like it too much. Now I was like, ‘great, I get to play there’.”
Clijsters was a serious injury doubt in the lead-up to the French Open.
She didn’t play a claycourt event after a freak injury caused by dancing barefoot at a family wedding.
That extended an absence from the tour already stretching back to Miami in March because of a shoulder problem.
But her determination to make Roland Garros this year after missing out in 2010 through injury was as solid as ever.
“Even after Australia, all my workouts were with the clay season in mind. So it was disappointing when [the ankle injury] happened, but it kind of just gave me another extra spark,” she said.
“Last year I had the experience of not playing here and I didn’t like it at all. I came to watch [Belgian compatriot] Kirsten Flipkens play, and that made it all even a little bit worse.
“So that motivated me more to work hard with my ankle and to go see my trainer a few times a day to heal faster.”
Clijsters is still careful with her schedule.
The bulk of her five-year absence from Paris was due to retirement when she married basketball player Brian Lynch and started a family.
‘The cute stuff’
Daughter Jada, now four, was courtside to see her mother win her opener.
Clijsters watched some tennis from home during her recent time off court, even cheering on Maria Sharapova when the Russian, who has also been plagued by injuries, won the Rome International two weeks ago.
“I think she looked more happy than I have seen her, besides a Grand Slam, obviously. She looked extremely happy.
“And I enjoyed the emotions that her boyfriend gave and all that stuff. You know, the cute stuff.”
Clijsters and Sharapova have something in common, apart from Grand Slam titles and a history of injuries.
Sharapova also has a basketball player in her life, NBA star Sasha Vujacic.
“They’re big, but they’re softies,” said Clijsters. — Reuters, AFP