Soderling serves early marker

The Swede sent out a strong message to the rest of the French Open field that he means business in his attempt to match last year's shock run to the final.

Robin Soderling, above, was rarely stretched by Laurent Recouderc in his first-round match.
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Robin Soderling sent out a strong message yesterday to the rest of the French Open field that he means business in his attempt to match last year's shock run to the final. The big-serving Swede had shown no previous pedigree on clay before last year's tournament, where he became the first man to beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on his way to the final, where he eventually lost to Roger Federer.

The fifth seed started his bid in impressive fashion on the opening day of the French Open, convincingly saw off French player Laurent Recouderc 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in their first-round match. The match proved one-sided as Soderling won the first nine games and when Recouderc finally got a game on the board by winning the 10th game, he gave a mock celebration to the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd. The canter in the French sunshine suited Soderling, who was pleased to have had things so easy.

"It's always nice to have a quick match in the early rounds," he said in the post-match press conference. "I got to hit a few balls. We had a few rallies. So it was a good match." The 25-year-old denied that he felt under pressure to match last year's form in Paris. He added: "I have to start over again. But of course it's always nice to come back to a place where you did well last year. It gives you good feelings."

The best match of yesterday's opening day saw eighth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga survive a huge scare to defeat Daniel Brands of Germany in five sets. The Frenchman lost the first set to his unseeded opponent, but rallied to win the next two before he lost a fourth set tie-break to be forced into a deciding set. Brands broke first to hold the advantage, but Tsonga, roared on by a partisan home crowd, broke back immediately, before getting the decisive break in the 12th game to seal a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 win.

Marin Cilic, the 10th seed had a brief scare against Brazil's Ricardo Mello before he booked his place in the last 64 of the tournament. The Croatian, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, cruised through the first set, but then lost his focus and dropped the second set. But the setback proved to be the wake-up call that Cilic needed as he ran through the next two sets for the loss of just four games to wrap up a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory.

Cilic said he had raised his game in the third set after his surprise setback. "The third set I think made a big difference in the mental approach to the match, and afterwards, it was much easier for me to play," he explained. "I could let few shots go and try something what I could do. The first match is always the one to try the things that you feel like, and to see where you are. So I think that was a good occasion to do it."

It was an easier day at the office for Mikhail Youzhny as the Russian 11th seed got the better of Poland's Michal Przysiezny 6-1, 6-0, 6-4. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez also reached the second round as the 32nd seed got the better of former world No 5 Rainer Schuettler in straight sets 7-5, 6-4, 6-2. Meanwhile, the man many experts had tipped to be a dark horse at Roland Garros, Ernests Gulbis, was forced to retire from his first-round match with Julian Benneteau when he trailed 6-4, 6-2, 1-0.

The Latvian had been in excellent form coming into the event, having pushed Rafael Nadal hard in Rome in the semi-final after beating Roger Federer, the world No 1, in the second round. But the 23rd seed was always struggling against Benneteau, losing the opening two sets before retiring with a hamstring injury. * Compiled by Graham Caygill, with agencies