The mantle of Grand Slam champion has not sat easily on the shoulders of Stanislas Wawrinka and the world No 3 became the first major faller at the French Open here on Monday night. In his first Grand Slam match since winning the Australian Open, Wawrinka was beaten 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0 by Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the world No 41.
Making a stream of errors and looking ill at ease, Wawrinka played like a novice. The 29-year-old Swiss was quickly in trouble in the first set, recovered his poise to level the match but then allowed Garcia-Lopez to regain control. His collapse in the fourth set was alarming as he became the first Australian Open champion to lose in the first round here since Petr Korda in 1998.
“I need to put the puzzle back together,” Wawrinka said afterwards, admitting that he had struggled to find the right balance in his tennis since the Australian Open. “I don’t have all the answers now. It’s tough.”
Wawrinka, who was jeered by spectators at the end, had been a model of consistency in the year leading up to his success in Australia, but this performance typified his recent fortunes. Apart from his triumph in Monte Carlo last month, when he beat his fellow countryman Roger Federer to claim his first Masters Series title, he has had a troubled time. Kevin Anderson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Andrey Golubev, Dominic Thiem and now Garcia-Lopez have all claimed his scalp this year.
Nadal himself began his quest for a ninth Roland Garros title by crushing the American Robby Ginepri 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 in just 102 minutes. Eyebrows had been raised when the world No 1’s opening match was not scheduled for the main show court, but the result would surely have been the same even if it had been staged in the middle of the Boulevard d’Auteuil.
Whether or not it had anything to do with the stir caused by the decision to send Nadal out on Court Suzanne Lenglen rather than Court Philippe Chatrier, it was notable that Jean Gachassin, president of the French tennis federation, was among the spectators on the second show court.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s Chatrier or Lenglen or another court,” the defending champion said in his most diplomatic manner. “It’s always a pleasure and an honour to play at Roland Garros.”
Novak Djokovic, the world No 2, made a similarly emphatic start, beating Portugal’s Joao Sousa 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 and even finding time to make a new friend after inviting a ballboy to sit beside him during a brief rain break. “We had a nice chat,” Djokovic said later. “He’s a tennis player, so I asked how long he has been playing, and how he is enjoying his time as a ball kid.”
James Ward, making his debut in the main draw after becoming the first Briton to qualify here for 41 years, was beaten 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 by Spain’s Tommy Robredo but far from disgraced. Ward hit the ball well throughout and was unlucky when rain stopped play for an hour after he had won the first set.
The world No 168 was broken immediately on the resumption, though Robredo always had to work hard for his win. Ward now believes he is ready to push into the top 100. “I’m 27, not 32,” he said. “People sometimes forget that.”
One of the day’s most entertaining episodes featured France’s Nicolas Mahut, who was beaten by Mikhail Kukushkin. “Congratulations,” an American reporter said to Mahut at the start of his post-match press conference. “Congratulations? I lost,” Mahut replied. “You lost? OK, so what happened out there?” the reporter said. “Are you serious? Did you watch the match?” Mahut asked. “No, I didn’t,” the reporter admitted. “I was told that you won. I’m sorry.” Mahut’s response: “Questions in French, please.”