at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Paris – Roger Federer and Serena and Venus Williams, three players well into their third decades on tour, headline Sunday’s first day of the 2014 French Open as old meets new at Roland Garros.
Federer, the 2009 champion and 17-time major winner, begins his 16th consecutive French Open having made his debut back in 1999 as a raw 17-year-old.
He starts against Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko, the world number 88 who he beat for the loss of just five games in their only previous meeting in the first round of the 2011 Australian Open.
Despite finishing as runner-up to Stan Wawrinka in the Monte Carlo Masters final in April, Federer then lost his first round clash in Rome, having only made a late decision to play following the birth of his and wife Mirka’s second set of twins.
He is planning to have all of his four children – newly-arrived Lenny and Leo and Myla and Charlene, who were born in 2009 – in Paris.
Federer insists he will not be distracted.
“They sleep that much that I don’t feel bad yet going out of the room and coming back, it’s almost the same situation,” he said.
“Clearly there is a bit more happening and there is a bit more you can do if you want to, but Mirka takes care of most of it.”
Women’s top seed Serena Williams, who won the 2013 title to add to her 2002 maiden triumph in the French capital, starts her 13th Roland Garros with a clash against home wildcard Alize Lim, the world 138.
However, the American star will not be getting too ahead of herself having been shocked in the first round by another French outsider Virginie Razzano in 2011.
Williams, 32, enjoyed an outstanding 2013 when she posted career highs in match wins (78) and titles (11), including her 16th and 17th major championships at Roland Garros and the US Open.
This year has been much more of a struggle with a fourth-round exit to Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open followed by a stunning opening-round defeat to 78th-ranked Jana Cepelova in Charleston.
However, she hit form at the right time by winning the Italian Open for the loss of just one set earlier this month.
“That was important for me, because I didn’t get to play as much clay as I did last year. I had to stop in Madrid early, so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play Rome,” said Williams.
“Then to come out the win gave me a lot of confidence. I got a lot of matches in there and I needed those matches. I felt good after them.”
Williams boasts a formidable 53-1 record in Grand Slam openers.
Venus Williams, the 29th seed, starts her 17th Roland Garros with a clash against Swiss 17-year-old Belinda Bencic who wasn’t even three months old when the American made her French Open bow in 1997.
At 33, Williams is the second-oldest player in the draw, and her 57 matches played in Paris is the most among active players.
Bencic, the world number 81, is the second-youngest player in the draw at 17, and is making her French Open debut.
Bencic is not the only teenage talent on show on Sunday with Australian 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios facing Canadian eighth seed Milos Raonic.
Play on the main Philippe Chatrier court will be opened by Polish third seed Agnieszka Radwanska, a quarter-finalist in 2013, taking on China's Zhang Shuai. – Sapa-AFP