Play began Tuesday at the French Open after a rain delay of 2½ hours that left center-court spectators longing for the tournament’s planned retractable roof.
With the schedule still in the first round on the third day of action, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli faced Olga Govortsova in the opening match on center court, but rain began falling shortly before the players were scheduled to take the court.
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The start of action on 14 other courts was also delayed before getting under way in cloudy, 55-degree weather. The schedule included the two champions from the Australian Open in January, No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Victoria Azarenka, along with past major titlists Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur.
Last week, tournament officials said they would move ahead with plans to build a retractable roof over center court, despite a judicial ruling last month that put the project on hold. The roof would be completed in 2018 as part of a $440 renovation million project at Roland Garros.
The men’s final last year between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was halted because of rain in the fourth set, forcing an overnight suspension and the completion of the tournament on a Monday. It was the first time in 39 years the French Open didn’t finish on time.
The weather was sunny on Monday, when Maria Sharapova began a bid for her fifth Grand Slam title with a rather quick and simple 6-2, 6-1 victory over 42nd-ranked Hsieh Su-wei.
Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open last year, adding the title to the ones from Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008. She never got the chance to defend that last one in 2009, because she was sidelined with an injured right shoulder; Sharapova had surgery on it in 2010.
“It’s nice to come back to a place where you feel like you’re part of its history,” Sharapova said, “where your name will always be (engraved) somewhere on the wall or on the trophy.”
Rafael Nadal, an 11-time major champion, also knows that feeling rather well, of course – especially in Paris, where he has won a record seven titles, including the past three.
His bid to become the only man with eight championships at any Grand Slam tournament got off to a slow start Monday, before he restored order by coming back to beat 59th-ranked Daniel Brands 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3.
For the better part of two sets, it wasn’t all that different from Nadal’s previous match at a Slam: Early round, main stadium, unknown opponent taking risky swings and putting everything in. At Wimbledon nearly a year ago, it was 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol who took it to Nadal and beat him in the second round.
“When you play against an opponent who serves really well, who puts in a high percentage of first serves, and who hits balls really fast, it’s complicated for everyone – not just for Rafael“
– Rafael’s uncle and coach, Toni Nadi
“He was trying to hit every ball as hard as he can,” said Nadal, who improved to 37-2 this season, with 16 victories in a row.
“He made me suffer, I can tell you.”
Brands came in 0-4 at the French Open, and with a sub-.500 career record in all tour matches, and his strategy was right out of Rosol’s playbook: Keep points short and aim for the lines.
“That’s the way. If you give Nadal time, there’s no chance. You have to be aggressive. That’s my view,” Rosol, who’s now ranked 36th, said on Monday after winning his first-round match.
“If other players play aggressive against him, that’s the only way to beat him.”
Toni Nadal, who is Rafael’s uncle and coach, saw similarities with the last time his nephew played at a Grand Slam.
“Yes, it was a little the same,” Toni said.
“Against Rosol, in the fifth set, we couldn’t do anything.”
But when a reporter wanted to know whether there’s a pattern being established as to the type of foe who can bother Rafael, Toni shrugged that off, replying: “When you play against an opponent who serves really well, who puts in a high percentage of first serves, and who hits balls really fast, it’s complicated for everyone – not just for Rafael.”