French open Roland Garros in style - Day One Review
The opening Sunday at Roland Garros was one of the hottest days of the year so far and as if to celebrate, the home players turned up the heat too.
The schedule was packed with French interest, but the stand-out match pitted the charismatic young Latvian, Ernests Gulbis, against veteran Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
The former had broken into the seedings only last week and the latter is ranked just outside them, and both have got the better of world No.1 Roger Federer in the last six months.
Gulbis, the overwhelming favourite -indeed tipped to upset several of the top players in the draw -quickly went down a break in the opening set. He pulled the break back, but struggled to keep pace with Benneteau’s variety and pace.
Even the Latvian’s powerful serve could not prevent him from conceded the opening set.
It was a similar story in the second, with Gulbis floundering against the Frenchman’s creative shot-making and deep ground-strokes. Matters worsened when he then pulled a hamstring and was forced to avail of took a medical time-out.
It proved to be beginning of the end. Losing 2-6, 4-6 Gulbis retired one game into the third set.
The crowd, who already in carnival voice, roared their approval for a wonderful display of tennis from their man, but it was a sad end to an otherwise outstanding clay season for the Latvian.
The partisan crowd had another hero to cheer later in the day, when the popular world no.10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took to the main show court to tackle the German, Daniel Brands. Brands was ranked a lowly No.89 in the rankings but he came close to causing a major upset.
In the fifth set Tsonga displayed why he is ranked as one of the best players in the world as he came from behind to secure a win 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5.
Meanwhile on Court 1 Josselin Ouanna, one of five French wild-cards in the draw, played overcame Lukasz Kubot in four sets.
His compatriot Laurent Recouderc who was playing No.7 seed Robin Soderling, was less successful. The big Swede conceded dropped just five games winning 6-0, 6-2, 6-3. After early losses in his last three tournaments, a strong win from last year’s losing finalist was a must, and he delivered.
With all the men’s seeds safely through the first day, eyes now turn to another French-saturated day on the burnished brick. Roger Federer begins the defence of his title but the focus of the French crowd will be on the fortunes of home favourite, Gael Monfils.
Soon after, the gifted but unpredictable Richard Gasquet takes on British hope Andy Murray. Gasquet begins his campaign just two days after lifting his first trophy in three years in Nice.
The Roland Garros crowd is a boisterous one at the best of times. In looking for their first champion since Yannick Noah in 1983, they threaten to become formidable.