PARIS: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal eased closer to a French Open quarter-final showdown Tuesday while two-time champion Serena Williams blitzed her way into the second round.
But there were opening defeats for women’s tour poster girl Eugenie Bouchard, the sixth seed, as well as men’s 10th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov.
Top seed Djokovic, bidding to win a first French Open and become just the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam, defeated experienced Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.
The victory over the 33-year-old Finn, who was playing in his 50th major, was Djokovic’s 23rd consecutive win this year.
The 28-year-old Serb, seeded to meet nine-time champion Nadal in the last eight, will next face either Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller or Paolo Lorenzi of Italy.
They were level at two sets apiece when darkness caused an overnight suspension to their tie.
“I always feel a lot of emotion when I get back on this court,” said Australian Open champion Djokovic, the runner-up to Nadal last year and in 2012.
“This year I’m playing very well so far and I hope I will get the confidence I have had since the beginning of the year.”
Nadal opened his bid for a 10th title with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over world number 296 Quentin Halys.
Nadal, seeded a humble six this year — his lowest for a decade — needed just one hour and 50 minutes to see off the 18-year-old and record his 67th career win at Roland Garros.
The defending champion came into the tournament without a European claycourt title for the first time since 2005 and with many in the sport writing him off as a spent force.
But in a cheeky riposte to his critics, the 14-time major winner played with the number ‘9’ stitched into the heels of his tennis shoes to remind people of his astonishing record at the tournament where he has only ever lost once.
Halys, making his Grand Slam debut, was broken five times and made 52 unforced errors.
Nadal goes on to face compatriot Nicolas Almagro for a place in the last 32.
“I played well. I changed direction with my forehands down the line. After the first three games I was moving better,” said Nadal.
“I am here to play well and compete. That is my mentality and the goal is always the same.”
Serena in a hurry
Women’s top seed and world number one Serena Williams won 6-2, 6-3 in just 59 minutes against Czech qualifier Andrea Hlavackova.
The 2002 and 2013 champion, and 19-time major winner, next faces Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany.
Williams has now won 58 of her 59 career first-round matches at the majors.
Only four of the 17 US women who started in the main draw made it to the second round.
“That’s kind of the way things go sometimes. I was a casualty once,” said Williams, whose only first round exit at a major came in Paris in 2012.
Canadian sixth seed Bouchard, a semi-finalist in 2014, crashed out at the hands of France’s Kristina Mladenovic.
Bouchard went down 6-4, 6-4 to the world number 44, her eighth defeat in her last nine matches.
“Everyone has highs and lows in their career. This is a little bit of a low point for me,” said 21-year-old Bouchard who also has a huge number of points to defend at Wimbledon next month having reached the final in 2014.
Also going out was Bulgarian 10th seed Dimitrov who suffered his second successive first-round exit in Paris, losing 7-6 (9/7), 6-2, 6-3 to Jack Sock of the United States.
Wimbledon champion and fourth seed Petra Kvitova needed two and a half hours to see off New Zealand’s world number 80 Marina Erakovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, getting broken six times and committing 47 unforced errors.
Serbian 25th seed Jelena Jankovic, a three-time semi-finalist, suffered her first opening-round loss in a decade when she went down 6-3, 6-4 to Bulgarian qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva.
Spain’s David Ferrer won his 300th claycourt match when he swept past Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion, beat Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 and will next face 2010 winner Francesca Schiavone of Italy.
Fifth seed and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki beat Italy’s Karin Knapp 6-3, 6-0. – AFP