Paris – Venus Williams tamed a plucky teenaged fan who once emailed her for playing tips while fellow American Andy Roddick found himself off target as he bowed out in the first round of the French Open on Sunday.
For Williams, who returned to the tennis tour in March after being diagnosed with a fatigue-inducing blood disorder, her tortuous 4-6 6-1 6-3 win over 120th-ranked Argentine Paula Ormaechea on a sparsely-populated showcourt was a far cry from her heyday.
The winner of seven grand slams, including five Wimbledon titles, struggled to hold her own serve as Ormaechea, 19, refused to go quietly.
Williams found some of her old strength of mind to break the Argentine to love in the ninth game of the deciding set and take the victory, but her next task could be a hard one – she could face third-seeded Pole Agnieska Radwanska who plays lowly Serbian Bojana Jovanovski on Monday.
“She played beautifully,” Williams said of Ormaechea, who grew up idolising the Williams sisters. “I was mostly hoping that my experience would help me out.”
Former U.S. Open champion Roddick, who has never been at home on the red clay of Roland Garros, watched 13 aces whistle past him as he was beaten 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-2 by Frenchman Nicolas Mahut.
The 29-year-old Roddick missed two months of the tour before last week's World Team Championship in Duesseldorf because of a hip injury but refused to use that as an excuse.
“I lost a match to a guy who played better than I did,” he told a news conference.
Mahut followed hot on the heels of fifth-seeded compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in reaching the second round, giving the French fans some cheer after wildcard Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy had lost a brave battle against 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain earlier in the day.
Tsonga, the highest seed in action on a low-key opening day, had to pull himself together after a sluggish start to beat Russian qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov 1-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Tsonga, who will now face Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany, said he always found the first match of a big event hard.
“Very often I have difficulties, I have to find my bearings,” he told a news conference. “All players could tell you that practising has nothing to do with an official match. When you start a tournament, you don't have your bearings on the court.”
Ferrero, who at the age of 32 already has one eye on life after tennis with a hotel and other interests, beat Dasnieres de Veigy 6-1 6-4 6-3 on a sunny Suzanne Lenglen Court and will now meet Croatian Marin Cilic.
Ninth seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina needed treatment on his left knee before he beat Spain's Albert Montanes 6-2 6-7 6-2 6-1.
Del Potro said the injury had been bothering him since the Madrid Open semi-finals a fortnight ago and he was glad to get his first Paris match over quickly.
“I will have two days to work with the physio on my knee. So I have time to recover and be in good shape for the next match,” he said.
Australian Samantha Stosur also had bad memories of Madrid, where she disliked the new, blue clay, and was glad to be back on the red dust of Roland Garros.
“It's nice to be on a real clay court again,” the sixth seed said after dismissing Briton Elena Baltacha 6-4 6-0 in little more than an hour.
Former world number one Ana Ivanovic, seeded 13th, was even swifter in dispatching Spanish qualifier Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino 6-1 6-1.
The women's defending champion Li Na of China will be in action on a busier day on Monday, when men's world No 1 Novak Djokovic and 16-times grand-slam winner Roger Federer will also take to the showcourts. – Reuters