French Open underway with Nadal tipped to triumph
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Spain's Rafael Nadal is once more considered the favourite to win as the French Open gets underway. The spotlight will also be on women's world number one Serena Williams and a handful of French players trying to overcome 30 years of disappointment.
Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who has claimed the French open a record seven times, was once again favoured to raise the Roland Garros trophy this year as play got underway in Paris on Sunday.
Nadal was opening his campaign on the clay court on Monday against German Daniel Brands, and was largely expected to cruise toward a semi-final with world number one Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic, who beat Nadal in last month's Monte Carlo Masters final, has repeated on several occasions that winning the French tournament was his main concert this year.
His path toward the final stages of the tournament, however, appeared a little more challenging than his Spanish rival's. In the first round, the Serbian will face the young Belgian David Goffin, who, despite being world number 57, shined at Roland Garros last year.
Roger Federer, who got a break when both Nadal and Djokovic’s names fell on the other half of the tournament’s bracket, eased by Spanish qualifier Pablo Carreno-Busta, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday.
On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova is the title-holder to beat, but all eyes are on Serena Williams. The American did poorly in Roland Garros one year ago, but since then she has won 67 matches and dropped only three, reclaiming the world number 1 spot at age 31.
Williams overpowered Georgia's Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1 on Sunday, extending her current unbeaten streak to 25 matches.
30-year dry spell
The pressure is on for the competition’s five Frenchman, who have been duly reminded in the run-up to the tournament that their last compatriot to claim Roland Garros was Yannick Noah, 30 years ago.
On Monday, sixth seed Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was facing Slovenian Aljaz Bedene while world number seven Richard Gasquet was taking on Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine.
The home team darlings were expected to defeat their challengers, but both face an uphill battle afterwards.
“I am feeling rather confident at the moment. I really feel well physically and feel strong. I really want to do better than I did last year,” Tsonga, considered the best hope for French glory, told reporters over the weekend.
But not even Noah seemed hopeful that France’s 30-year slump could be broken.
Asked if it this could be a big year for France, the 53-year-old Noah told Le Monde newspaper:
“Not now, not this generation. It's not that I think they are no good. It's just that the guys ahead of them are stronger.
“Jo [-Wilfried Tsonga] is capable of beating a top five player at any time, if he plays an exceptional match, but he can't do that twice in a row. Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, over five sets, they are just better,” Noah said.