Tournament favorites Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic made their debuts today at the French Open.
During the day, Nadal faced the big-serving Alexei Popyrin and as expected rolled early to lead by two sets. But Nadal’s forehand and game fell apart allowing Popyrin to build a 5-2 lead. Not wanting another set, Rafa had to save two set points and ultimately rallied for 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(3) victory to win his 31st straight French Open match and 101st overall at the event.
“Here you lose the set. Okay. We are playing best-of-five,” Nadal said. “The other player needs to win two more sets to beat you, and I know I gonna be there fighting for every single point.
“So of course I don’t want to lose the set at all, but that’s part of the game. You face a player that he’s decided to go for every shot, so you are in trouble. If he’s having success like he did with his serve, then it’s difficult to have breaks, and then you are in a tricky position.”
Popryin admitted to choking away the third in which he had two set points on serve at 5-3.
“I think the emotion right now is definitely disappointment,” Popyrin said. “Choked in that third set, could have taken to the fourth, should have taken it to the fourth.
“We chalk this one down to experience but I don’t want to chalk many matches down to experience much longer. I think I’m experienced enough to not choke at 5-3, 40-30, 5-3 advantage. You know, I’m disappointed with that.
“But overall I think I played a good game. I think tactically here and there it was kind of like a game of chess where he would, you know, hit a high loopy ball to the backhand and you would need to counterattack with that one. It was basically like that the whole match.”
Nadal will now meet Richard Gasquet on Thursday.
Under the lights, Djokovic destroyed Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in an empty yet still noisy Chatrier. The two players were annoyed by some officials/media chatting in the stadium. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to the match.
“So it was strange,” Djokovic said of the empty area. “Honestly, but I’m also honored to be the first men’s match, night session, history of this tournament, of this court.
“I thought I played really well. Moved really well. Just overall from Rome tournament, later stages of Rome tournament until now, I’m just finding my groove on the court, striking the ball well. Very pleased with the way I am feeling and playing on the court.
“So I’m going to try to keep that up. Obviously it’s a long shot. It’s a long tournament. But I’ll take it match by match. And physically I’m also fit. I’m motivated as anybody.”
A first-time meet with veteran Pablo Cuevas is next on Thursday.
While Nadal and Djokovic rolled, there was another exit by a Top 10 player. No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev was eliminated by Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 7-6(6), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4. It was Struff’s first Top 10 win in a Slam after nine previous failed tries.
“It was definitely a very, very tough match,” Struff said. “I played Andrey twice this year, lost twice in three sets, played twice a very good first set but couldn’t get the job done.
“Today I managed to beat him. Was very, very close. He fought back very tough after two sets to love up for me, and very happy I won 6-4 in the fifth, and definitely it’s a huge win for me in a Grand Slam against a top-10 player. Yeah, very, very important.”
After a good clay season in which he made the Monte Carlo finals, Rublev had high hopes despite being in Nadal’s quarter.
“Of course I was thinking that I would like to come back from 2-0, but I don’t know, the fifth set I was a bit unlucky,” Rublev said. “He played that game when he broke me really well. He did I think two returns, winners, and then he had two break points and I saved them, I make it to deuce, and then he returned so hard right on the line and on the break point, full power cross-court winner return again. So was a bit unlucky.
“And then when I had a chance to break him, he played well there. So you never know what’s going to — if it’s going to be the same situation the next day, maybe it’ll be a different story. Maybe I would save the game and when I would have break points I would make them.”
Former semifinalists Gael Monfils, Marco Cecchinato and Diego Schwartzman were also winners today. Aslan Karatsev, Alex De Minaur, Philip Kohlschreiber and Matteo Berrettini advanced. And in another mild upset, Italian veteran Andreas Seppi hung on to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-4.
The second round begins on Wednesday Daniil Medvedev on at night against the steady American Tommy Paul. Karen Khachanov collides with Kei Nishikori.
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are also on court.
WEDNESDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
** Court Philippe CHATRIER ** Début à 12h00
1 SD 2 Harmony TAN (FRA) contre Marketa VONDROUSOVA (CZE) 
2 SM 2 Karen KHACHANOV (RUS)  contre Kei NISHIKORI (JPN)
Pas avant 16h00
3 SD 2 Serena WILLIAMS (USA) contre Mihaela BUZARNESCU (ROU)
Pas avant 21h00
4 SM 2 Tommy PAUL (USA) contre Daniil MEDVEDEV (RUS) 
** Court Suzanne LENGLEN ** Début à 11h00
1 SM 2 Alexander ZVEREV (GER)  contre Roman SAFIULLIN (RUS)
2 SD 2 Polona HERCOG (SLO) contre Caroline GARCIA (FRA)
3 SM 2 Stefanos TSITSIPAS (GRE)  contre Pedro MARTINEZ (ESP)
4 SD 2 Aliaksandra SASNOVICH (BLR) contre Aryna SABALENKA (BLR)
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