Perhaps it had all been too good to be true. In the absence of the injured Andy Murray, the stage had been set for Laura Robson to become the focal point of British attention here at the French Open, but for once the 19-year-old failed to deliver. While a 6-3, 6-2 defeat by Caroline Wozniacki was a fair reflection of the two players' rankings – the 22-year-old Dane sits 27 places higher than the Briton at No 10 in the world – there could be no escaping the sense that this was a missed opportunity.
Given the fact that Robson had beaten three Grand Slam champions in her last two appearances at this level and counted Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams among her more recent scalps, the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion was probably the last player Wozniacki would have wanted to face in the first round here given her own recent form. The former world No 1, whose father announced at the weekend that he no longer wanted to coach her, had lost five matches in a row going into Roland Garros. Wozniacki, nevertheless, has played in the last 25 Grand Slam tournaments and consistently reaches the latter stages of the biggest events.
Despite the deficiencies in her game – in particular her lack of a killer weapon – she is a superb athlete who always makes her opponents hit the extra ball. Robson, showing her own inexperience and a lack of patience, went for too many shots and paid the price, making 39 unforced errors.
Judging by her downbeat demeanour afterwards, Robson had not enjoyed the experience of being the centre of so much attention. When it was pointed out to her afterwards that the British focus had been on her, she replied with a sarcastic smile: "Really? I hadn't noticed." She added: "There have definitely been a few more people at my practices the last couple of days, but I've tried to get on with it."
Robson failed to take break points in Wozniacki's first two service games and everything started to unravel after she double-faulted on break point to trail 3-1. Despite breaking back immediately, the Briton dropped serve again in identical fashion in the following game. She revealed afterwards that she is making changes to her serve, which will surely be a priority when she appoints a new coach following her split with Zeljko Krajan. When Robson failed to convert a game point by double-faulting again in the opening game of the second set she cried out: "It's never-ending!"
Although there were plenty of moments when Robson showed her ball-striking prowess, there were far too many mistakes and Wozniacki broke serve three times in the second set. "I think experience means a lot," she said afterwards. "I know where I stand. I know how I play my best."
Robson admitted: "Caroline played really well and smart. She definitely knew what she wanted to do on court, and I just generally wasn't able to get into the match. My shots just weren't firing as well as they usually are."
British attention will now switch to Heather Watson and Elena Baltacha, who play their first-round matches tomorrow. Watson, who plays Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele, is returning after two months out with glandular fever. Baltacha, who meets Kiwi Marina Erakovic, came back last month after a lengthy injury absence.
Rafael Nadal, playing his first Grand Slam match since his defeat by Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon last summer, made an uncertain start to his quest to win the title here for a record eighth time. The Spaniard lost the first set to the German Daniel Brands, and was 3-0 down in the second set tie-break before showing his fighting spirit to win 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3. It was the first time Nadal had lost the opening set in the first round of a Grand Slam event.
"He was just firing on all cylinders," Nadal said of the world No 59's flying start. "He made me suffer, I can tell you, and I'd like to pay tribute to what he did. I'd like to wish him every success, everything that he deserves for the future."
France's Gaël Monfils, who has slipped to No 81 in the world rankings and needed a wild card to play here, won the match of the day, beating Tomas Berdych, the world No 6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 7-5 after a four-hour thriller. The two highest-ranked home players, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, both had convincing victories, beating Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene and Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky respectively in straight sets.
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