Rafael Nadal began his pursuit of a record-tying 20th men’s Grand Slam title with a straight-sets victory at the French Open while Serena Williams made a slow but successful start in her latest bid to equal Margaret Court’s all-time mark.
Nadal, 34, needs one more Slam to match Roger Federer’s record but has described the defence of his Roland Garros crown as the “most difficult ever” given the cold and damp conditions of a tournament delayed four months by the coronavirus pandemic.
The second seed defeated Egor Gerasimov, the world number 83 from Belarus, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, to launch his assault on a 13th French Open title, 15 years after triumphing on his debut.
“I am happy, honestly. I did the things that I had to do. I didn’t expect much more,” said Nadal.
The Spaniard is appearing for the first time in Paris without a clay title to his credit and skipped the recent US hardcourt swing over Covid-19 concerns.
He smacked 32 winners to just 20 unforced errors to down Gerasimov, one of 31 men entered into his first French Open main draw.
Williams is chasing an elusive 24th Grand Slam title to draw level with Margaret Court’s all-time haul, but clay is her least successful surface.
An error-prone beginning from the American star left world number 102 Kristie Ahn serving for the first set before the three-time Roland Garros champion prevailed 7-6 (7/2), 6-0.
Williams, seeded sixth here, has not gone beyond the last 16 in Paris since her defeat to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final. Her last major came at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.
Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev crashed out in the first round for the fourth year running, losing 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-1, to Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics.
The Russian, runner-up at last year’s US Open, became the highest-ranked player to fall so far and has yet to win a match at Roland Garros since his debut in 2017.
Italian journeyman Lorenzo Giustino carved out his own place in the headlines when he outlasted France’s Corentin Moutet, 0-6, 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 18-16, in the second longest match in French Open history at six hours and five minutes.
The match, held over from Sunday, fell 28 minutes short of Roland Garros’ record marathon tie between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in 2004.
US Open winner Dominic Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in Paris the past two years, defeated former Slam champion Marin Cilic, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Eighth seed Gael Monfils, the top Frenchman, lost 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 to Alexander Bublik.
Play on Monday was initially delayed by more persistent rain. Petra Kvitova defeated Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-5 in the only match to start on time under the new roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Kiki Bertens overhauled 112th-ranked Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 once conditions improved while Elina Svitolina scrapped past Varvara Gracheva 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.
Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, edged past Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 but last year’s runner-up Marketa Vondrousova was bundled out 6-1, 6-2 by Polish teenager Iga Swiatek.