PARIS: Simona Halep, the 2014 runner-up, reached the French Open second round on Sunday as 2009 champion Roger Federer prepared to start his 62nd consecutive Grand Slam event.
Third seed Halep saw off Russian world number 91 Evgeniya Rodina 7-5, 6-4 and next faces either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia or America’s Lauren Davis.
“It’s not easy to start a new tournament but I am happy to be back in Paris where I have so many great memories from last year,” said the 23-year-old Romanian who was broken three times and committed 26 unforced errors.
Federer, one of a record 39 men over 30 in the main draw, was second up on the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier against a man who almost condemned him to his worst loss at a major.
The second seeded Swiss faces ‘lucky loser’ Alejandro Falla of Colombia who famously led Federer by two sets to love in the first round at Wimbledon in 2010 before the Swiss fought back to win in five.
Left-handed Colombian Falla is ranked 111 in the world, having been as high as 48 just two years ago, and made the fourth round in Paris in 2011.
Federer is desperate to make the most of a kind draw which dumped top seed Novak Djokovic, nine-time champion Rafael Nadal and third seed Andy Murray all in the opposite half.
As a result, the 33-year-old can only face one of his main rivals for the title in the June 7 final and not before.
“I was good enough to make the finals on many occasions, so I feel like I know that I have done well here in previous years,” said Federer.
“I hope that that can help me a little bit. I’m playing good tennis, and if I do string it all together, it could be a successful tournament.”
Federer, who has a 7-0 career record against Falla, is seeded to meet compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals.
The eighth-seeded 2014 Australian Open champion starts his campaign against Turkey’s world number 82 Marsel Ilhan.
Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori is also in action on Sunday against Paul-Henri Mathieu, the 33-year-old Frenchman, now ranked at 123 and who has won just one tour match all year.
Nishikori has yet to get beyond the fourth round in Paris but retained his claycourt title in Barcelona this year as well as making the semi-finals in Madrid.
He also has the added benefit of 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang as coach.
Serbian seventh seed Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 champion, starts her campaign against Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova, a quarter-finalist in 2010 and 2012.
In other standout matches on the first day, Ernests Gulbis, who knocked Federer out of the competition last year on his way to the semi-finals, faces Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands.
Gulbis has just two wins all year to his name.
French 14th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a semi-finalist in 2013, takes on Swedish qualifier Christian Lindell, the world number 200 who is making his Grand Slam debut.
In other early matches on Sunday, German 22nd seed Philipp Kohlschreiber saw off Japan’s Go Soeda 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 while volatile Russian Mikhail Youzhny, a quarter-finalist in 2010, retired with a back injury after dropping the first two sets against Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur.
In the women’s singles, Russian ninth seed Ekaterina Makarova breezed past US wildcard Louisa Chirico 6-4, 6-2. – AFP