Rafa Nadal suffered a severe fright before celebrating a tough five-set victory over John Isner as he began his French Open title defence on Tuesday, while Kim Clijsters sauntered through.
World number one Nadal was forced into his first five-set match at Roland Garros and risked becoming the first men’s champion to go out in the first round here before finally outlasting the giant American 6-4 6-7 6-7 6-2 6-4.
“It’s always a very, very close match with John,” Nadal said in a courtside interview. “I was there, I fought all the time. In the tiebreaks I was probably too nervous.”
British fourth seed Andy Murray was broken twice in a 6-4 6-1 6-3 victory over Eric Prodon, a 29-year-old local qualifier who has won only one match on the main tour and was making just his fourth grand slam appearance.
Women’s second seed Clijsters had not played for almost two months after injuries, including an ankle problem that she picked up at her cousin’s wedding.
Despite wearing strapping on the ankle, the Belgian easily outfought Anastasia Yakimova of Belarus 6-2 6-3 to prove her fitness and lay down a marker in a women’s draw largely devoid of grand slam title experience.
Women’s sixth seed Li Na, who lost to Clijsters in January’s Australian Open, started with an uninspiring 6-3 6-7 6-3 win over Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova as the day began with cloud.
In-form Maria Sharapova added the sunshine with a yellow dress as she routed Mirjana Lucic 6-3 6-0 and while Ana Ivanovic rivalled the Russian in the fashion stakes with a pink number, the tearful ex-champion lost 7-6 0-6 6-2 to Johanna Larsson of Sweden.
Queues at the entrances to the famous courts in western Paris lengthened as temperatures warmed up and anticipation rose for Nadal’s first match.
The Spaniard is seeking a sixth title in seven years but Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who easily won his first match on Monday, is threatening to break his dominance after a stunning unbeaten start to the year.