Nadal, Thiem, Serena kick off French Open campaigns with straight-set wins

Paris, Sep 28 (efe-epa).- French Open favorites Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem easily passed their first tests on Monday, while Serena Williams struggled in the opening set before rolling to an easy victory.

The third-seeded Thiem played the second match on Court Philippe Chatrier and eased to a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Croatian former top-five player Marin Cilic, who was unable to offer as much opposition to the Austrian as he did on a faster hard court at the recently concluded US Open.

In New York, Cilic at times was able to impose his powerful game and was the only player who managed to take a set off of the eventual champion prior to the final.

But Thiem had a much easier time returning Cilic’s big serve and thwarting his net-rushing advances on red clay.

The Croatian managed just one ace throughout the two-hour, six-minute match and won just 17 of 32 points when he approached the net, as the Austrian positioned himself far behind the baseline to give himself plenty of time to wind up his explosive ground strokes off both wings.

The 2014 US Open champion’s ineffectiveness moving forward in the court translated into an inability to control his own service games, with Thiem securing two breaks in each of the three sets.

The world No. 3 only lost his own serve twice, the second time when he made a series of unforced errors in the opening game of the third set.

But he rallied from an 0-2 deficit to take a 5-2 lead and then clinched victory two games later with one final service hold.

“I really love this tournament. It is, by far, my best Grand Slam tournament so far,” the 27-year-old Thiem, who was the Roland Garros runner-up in 2018 and 2019 before capturing his maiden Grand Slam title at this year’s US Open, was quoted as saying on the ATP Tour’s website. “I wanted to prepare well. I didn’t want to lose too much tension after my victory in New York and I am really happy how I did it.”

“I am really happy with my first round. I was facing another great champion today. The transition to the clay and the cold conditions worked out pretty well.”

Next up for Thiem in the second round will be American Jack Sock, who brushed aside big-serving countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

American Serena Williams took the main court next and needed a while to settle into her game against countrywoman Kristie Ahn.

After a back-and-forth first set in which she had her serve broken on two occasions, the 23-time Grand Slam champion kicked her game into a higher gear in the first-set tiebreaker and then cruised to the finish line for a 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 win.

The biggest factor in the match was the strong returning of Williams, who broke Ahn’s serve five times and won nearly half of her opponent’s first-serve points.

After a nervous first set in which she hit 15 winners but committed 28 unforced errors, the American great played a much cleaner second set in which she struck 11 winners in just six games and made just eight unforced errors.

“The biggest difference was just confidence,” Serena was quoted as saying afterward on the WTA’s website. “I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena. So that was it. I just started playing like that, and I love the clay and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

The 39-year-old Williams will next take on Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova, who lost to Williams in the quarterfinals of this year’s US Open.

Spanish world No. 2 Rafael Nadal and Belarusian Egor Gerasimov contested the last match on Court Philippe Chatrier and treated the small number of fans (1,000 are allowed per day) to a series of punishing baseline rallies.

The 12-time champion has arrived at his favorite Grand Slam tournament with less preparation than usual due to the pandemic and suffered a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman at the Italian Open earlier this month, but he showed no major signs of rust in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Nadal won the first two sets on the strength of just one service break apiece, but Gerasimov became worn down by the long exchanges with the Spaniard and lost his serve three times in the final set.

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