Wake-up call for champion Kuznetsova

The Russian defending champion overcomes a slow and shaky start to beat Sorana Cirstea in the opening centre-court match at the French Open.

Svetlana Kuznetsova slides to hit a forehand during her first-round match against Sorana Cirstea at Roland Garros.
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Svetlana Kuznetsova made an unconvincing start to the defence of her women's crown as the French Open began in Paris yesterday. The Russian appeared to be half asleep initially against Sorana Cirstea as she lost the opening six points of their first-round match on her way to finding herself 3-0 down. The early 11am start and the pressure of being the reigning champion appeared to be sitting heavily on the 24-year-old's shoulders in the early stages. But she soon snapped out of it and began to demonstrate just how she became champion 12 months ago as she won six games in succession to take the opening set. She then raced through the second set for the loss of just one game, although her Romanian opponent was left to lament not taking any of the four break points she had in that second set, which could have made things closer. Kuznetsova acknowledged: "Definitely I was a little bit nervous. It was rough start for me. I managed to come back and fight for every single game. Doesn't matter if I was down Love-40 or 15-40, whatever was it. I was just playing as many balls back as I could." The sixth seed has not come to Roland Garros in the greatest of form, having only won one of four matches on clay prior to the tournament, and only nine victories all calendar year. But she is confident that her form will return, adding: "I was not showing as good results as I would like to. "I worked harder than these results showed. I was just concerned about when it was going to pass." Kuznetsova next plays Andrea Petkovic after the German came from a set down to beat Russia's Elena Vesnina 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

The French Open is the one grand slam title missing from Venus Williams's trophy cabinet, and the American made a strong start to her 14th attempt at winning the tournament yesterday. She defeated Switzerland's Patty Schnyder 6-3, 6-3 to move into the second round with ease. Williams has reached the final only once in Paris, in 2002, and has not been beyond the third round since 2006. Elsewhere on the opening day, the big shock was the exit of 10th seed Victoria Azarenka. The 20-year-old Belarusian, who had reached the quarter-finals in Paris a year ago, was convincingly beaten 6-1, 6-2 by Argentina's Gisele Dulko. Aravane Rezai, the 15th seed who came to the tournament fresh off the back of a victory over Venus Williams in the Madrid final, gave her home crowd plenty to cheer as she strolled past the challenge of Heidi El Tabakh 6-1, 6-1. Varvara Lepchenko won an all-American match-up, ending a streak of seven consecutive losses in grand slam matches by beating Christina McHale 7-5, 6-3. Lepchenko, ranked 127th, was born in Uzbekistan, but received political asylum, and expects to become a US citizen next year. "I've been living there for 10 years now," she said. "I'm proud that I represent it here." Martinez Sanchez, the 20th seed went down 6-2, 6-4 to Uzbekistan's world No 97 Akgul Amanmuradova, as the form which took her to wins over top 10 players Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic in Rome deserted her. Slovakia's 26th seed Dominika Cibulkova, a semi-finalist last year, demolished Russia's Ekaterina Ivanova 6-2, 6-0, while South Africa's Chanelle Scheepers reached the second round of a grand slam for the first time when she beat Mathilde Johansson, of France 6-2, 6-4. Flavia Pennetta, the Italian 14th seed, proved far too good for Britain's Anne Keothavong as she romped to a 6-2, 6-2 success. * Compiled by Graham Caygill, with agencies