Rafael Nadal defeated Simone Bolelli 6-4 6-3 7-6(9) in the French Open round one. Photo: Caroline Blumberg/EPA

LONDON – Rafa Nadal needs to play more aggressively if he is to claim a record-extending 11th French Open title as a pack of young wolves is breathing down his neck, according to three-time Roland Garros champion Mats Wilander.

The top-seeded Spaniard had to save four set points against Simone Bolelli before wrapping up a 6-4 6-3 7-6(9) victory in a first-round match that spanned over two days because of rain.

“I think that it wasn’t that great, he was a little too passive but Simone Bolelli played an excellent match,” Swede Wilander told Reuters yesterday.

“But I think Nadal knows how to win matches when he is too passive. He was expecting Bolelli to miss I think. Again, it’s about winning and he seems to be able to win when he’s too passive. He’s the greatest match player of all time on the day and he respects his opponents so much that it makes him nervous and tense and tight.”

That style of play may be fine for a first-round match, but the 16-time grand slam champion will need to make adjustments to preserve his freshness.

“But if he plays like (that) in other matches it means he’s going to have long matches and I’m not sure long matches is a good thing for him,” said Wilander, who won Roland Garros in 1982, 1985 and 1988.

“He needs to risk a little more and risk losing a set because it’s a long two weeks and he needs to be fresh because against (German Alexander) Zverev and these guys you need to be fresh.”

Elsewhere, there was the usual pre-toss skipping routine, an abundance of shrieks and the oft-seen mid-match wobble as Maria Sharapova returned to the French Open following a two-year hiatus with a 6-1 4-6 6-3 win against Richel Hogenkamp yesterday. 

“It is great to be back on a court that I have had great success on. I have always loved playing here. It's been a grand slam that was very difficult for me to do well at physically, mentally. I overcame that,” Sharapova told reporters.

Meanwhile, former world number one Serena Williams, competing in her first grand slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open, looked in fine form as she defeated Czech Kristyna Pliskova 7-6(4) 6-4.