French Open: Rafael Nadal off to winning start while Ashleigh Barty is given first-round scare

Spaniard starts bid for record-extending title with straight-sets win over Popyrin but Australian world No 1 struggles to victory in Paris

Rafael Nadal started his bid for a record-extending 14th French Open title with a straight-sets victory over Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old Spaniard, seeded third, raced through the first two sets but then found himself 5-2 down in the third. But he was not to be denied, recovering to clinch a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 victory over his Australian opponent.

Nadal looked in ominous form and has not lost a set at Roland Garros since beating Dominic Thiem in the 2019 final. Since 2016, only three players have taken a set from Nadal at Roland Garros: Diego Schwartzman, David Goffin and Thiem.

Nadal will take on Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who he has beaten in all 16 of their previous meetings, in the second round.

There was a shock defeat for Russian seventh seed Andrey Rublev who lost in five sets to Jan-Lennard Struff. Rublev fought back from two sets down to level the match against Struff but it was the German who came through 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4.

"It was definitely a very, very tough match. It was very, very close," said Struff. "It's a huge win for me at a Grand Slam against a top-10 player."

Home favourite Gael Monfils recovered from a disastrous first set to triumph 1-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 over Albert Ramos Vinolas of Spain.

Russia's Aslan Karatsev started with a win as he looks to back up his startling run to the Australian Open semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut earlier this year. The 24th seed earned a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over American world No 163 Jenson Brooksby.

Australian 21st seed Alex de Minaur coasted past Stefano Travaglia 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 and takes on another Italian in Marco Cecchinato next.

In the women's draw, world No 1 Ashleigh Barty was given a scare in her opening match against Bernarda Pera before coming through in three sets.

Barty is back at Roland Garros for the first time since winning the title in 2019 and is in fine form this season, winning three titles and cementing her place at the top of the rankings.

The Australian took the opening set but American Pera fought back to win the second and Barty, who had heavy strapping on her left thigh, then called for a trainer at the changeover.

While not looking completely comfortable in the deciding set, the top seed still managed to finish strongly and secure a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win.

"It's going to be a little bit tough this week," said Barty. "I'm not going to hide behind the fact I'm not quite 100 per cent but I can guarantee that I will go out there with the right attitude every day and be really accepting of that and give it a crack no matter what."

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina eased into the second round after beating French teenager Oceane Babel 6-2, 7-5. The Ukrainian will now take on another American in Ann Li for a place in the last 32.

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur is also safely through following her 7-5, 6-2 win over Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan and now faces Astra Sharma of Australia, while 13th seed Jennifer Brady of the US beat Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-3.

Eleventh seed Petra Kvitova has been forced to withdraw from the tournament after falling during media duties and hurting her ankle following her win over the Belgian Greet Minnen.

"It's incredibly bad luck," the Czech, who reached the semi-finals last year, said in a statement, "but I will stay strong and do my best to recover in time for the grass-court season."

Kvitova's second-round opponent Elena Vesnina will receive a bye to the last 32.

Published: June 1, 2021 09:55 PM

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