By Martyn Herman
Maria Sharapova got back in the groove at her happiest hunting ground with the Russian opening her bid for a third French Open title with a 6-2 6-4 win over Kaia Kanepi on Monday.
The claycourt convert, champion last year and in 2012 and runner-up in 2013, went through her usual routines to great effect to ease through into the second round with few alarms.
With her nemesis and top seed Serena Williams keeping her powder dry until Tuesday when men’s number one Novak Djokovic and nine-times champion Rafa Nadal also set out, Sharapova shared top-billing with Britain’s Andy Murray on a breezy day in swanky western Paris.
Murray followed her on Court Phillipe Chatrier to face Argentine lucky loser Facundo Arguello.
Men’s fourth seed Tomas Berdych’s long march in search of a maiden grand slam title resumed with a 6-0 7-5 6-3 victory against Japanese qualifer Yoshihito Nishioka.
Seeded in the top four at a grand slam for the first time, 29-year-old Berdych was relieved to a sixth first-round fall at the French Open where he reached the semi-final in 2010.
Nishioka was one of five Japanese men to start in the main draw, the most since 1967, but only highly-fancied Kei Nishikori remains two days into the claycourt grand slam.
Berdych, a member of the world’s top 10 for five years but with only one grand slam final to his name, at Wimbledon in 2010 when he lost to Nadal, was far too streetwise for his 19-year-old opponent and was only briefly tested in the second set.
“I’m feeling well. I’m feeling physically, mentally strong, and that’s the best possible start that I can have,” Berdych told reporters. “Just now be patient, keep working for the two weeks, and try to go as far as I can.”
Sharapova racked up her 21st victory in her last 22 matches on the Parisian clay, only sporadically having to find top gear against an opponent who matched her for power on occasions but lacked the conistency to really cause trouble.
She dropped serve while leading 3-1 in each set, but her class ultimately shone through as she set up a second-round against fellow-Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.
Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, the men’s 11th seed, became the highest casualty so far, losing 6-3 7-6(9) 6-3 to Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili women’s 14th seed Agnieszka Radwanska’s slump continued as the former world number two succumbed 6-2 3-6 6-1 to Germany’s Annika Beck.
Overcast skies greeted home favourite Alize Cornet for the start of the action and despite a sparse lunchtime crowd she treated the home fans who had arrived on time to a comeback win against Roberta Vinci.
The French number one, saddled with the pressure of trying to provide a home winner for the first time since Mary Pierce in 2000, looked on course for a fifth consecutive defeat by Vinci before recovering to win 4-6 6-4 6-1.
She was relieved to avoid the same fate as her Fed Cup team mate Caroline Garcia who lost in the first round on Sunday.
Unlike Garcia, Cornet said she loved the big stage.
“I was really glad that this court was chosen for me today,” the 29th seed. “The ambience on this court is amazing.
“I think that’s why I could actually come back in this match, because the people were behind me. It’s just a great atmosphere in this court.”
Women’s eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro underlined her “dark horse” tag with an impressive 6-2 6-2 win over Monica Niculescu of Romania.