Roger Federer made a storming comeback to the French Open four years after his last match here, with the Swiss icon crushing Italian Lorenzo Sonego 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 to kick-start a revived clay campaign on Sunday.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner who skipped the dirt entirely during 2017 and 2018, showed back back with a title chance at Roland Garros, he missed 2016 with a back injury.
Federer last played at the venue in the 2015 quarter-finals losing to compatriot Stan Wawrinka.
As he returned to clay this spring, the 37-year-old clocked quarter-finals at both Madrid and Rome by way of preparation.
“I’m very happy I took that decision, because I enjoyed Madrid, I enjoyed Rome. I’m happy to be here,” the 2009 Paris winner said.
“The reception I got today was crazy, was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this. It was a beauty. So I’m very, very happy.”
The veteran quickly spoiled the tournament debut for Sonego, reeling in the first set in less than half an hour and duplicating that kind of success with a dominating second set.
In the third, a break for Federer in the penultimate was enough to see the third seed through on his first match point.
“It’s nice to be an outsider. That’s how I feel, anyhow,” Federer said. “Just see how it goes.”
Greek sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas booked the Paris second round as he defeated Max Marterer 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(4), going through with a winner into the corner in an hour and three-quarters.
Madrid finalist Tsitsipas managed to tamp down any hopes of an upset by his German opponent who won three matches here a year ago before inevitably falling victim to Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.
“It’s important to start like this, Tsitsipas said. “I stayed mentally strong and closed the tiebreak at the end.”
“It helped to get the match straight in three straight sets, which is good to start a tournament like this. I kept my momentum and played well.”
No. 7 Kei Nishikori made short work of Frenchman Quentin Halys with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 decision.
Croatian 11th seed Marin Cilic began with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-1 defeat of Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano after entering the event having won 8 of his 15 clay matches and losing his Top 10 spot.
“I had a couple of okay tournaments and a few losses. I’ve had quite a lot of training done in these last two months.
“It’s important at the Grand Slams to be focussed every single session. I’m happy with the level that I produced today in the first match.”
Grigor Dimitrov ended a disappointing run of three consecutive first-round defeats as he outlasted Serb Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-0, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-4 after almost blowing a two-set early lead
The clay season of reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber ended barely an hour into the start of the French Open, with the fifth seed exiting 6-4, 6-2 against 81st-ranked Russian teenager Anastasia Potapova on Sunday.
My phone is exploding now: Potapova stuns Kerber in Roland Garros sensation
The unorthodox weekend start of the clay court major brought a quick end to the least favourite part of the season for the German who has a career best of two quarter-finals at Roland Garros. She has now lost in the first round six times here.
Kerber proved to be unfit to contest the first match on the re-built Chatrier court due to an ankle injury she suffered while warming up for a Madrid second rounder a fortnight ago.
She ended the spring clay campaign 2-3 on the surface and will immediately turn her focus to getting her foot right and preparing for her All England Club title defence.
Kerber made no excuses for her loss in 73 minutes in which she was broken six times.
“I tried my best. I was able to practise really well the last few days,” she said. “It was not really a long clay court preparation.”
“But at the end, I was happy to at least go onto court and play a match, Of course it’s not like I hoped for.
‘But she played good. What else can I say? At the end I really didn’t have too many expectations for this tournament.”
Second seeded Rome titleholder Karolina Pliskova dispatched Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-3 while Elina Svitolina beat Venus Williams, with the American who first competed here in 1997 losing in the first round for the fifth time and second in succession.
“It’s pretty soon after the match,” the 38-year-old Williams said.
“I’ll definitely think about it and definitely evaluate it the next day or two.
“When something is not working, you do try and change it. Maybe a few too many unforced errors today.”
2016 Paris winner Garbine Muguruza, a former No. 1 who now stands 19th, advanced into the second round with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 comeback over American Taylor Townsend.
Like Kerber, the Spaniard also played an abbreviated clay season, ending 2-3 with the Rome third round her best effort. She now stands 25-5 at the event.
“We always know that the first rounds are difficult. It’s the first match of a Grand Slam, it’s a little adventure,” the double Grand Slam champion said.
“It took me a while to feel better in the court, to get the rhythm, to have a game plan.
“It was a tough match. I’m happy to go through.
Felix Auger-Aliassime forced to withdraw
Injury caught up with Canadian teen Felix Auger-Aliassime as the breakthrough youngster was forced to withdraw prior to his Roland Garros start on Sunday.
The 19-year-old strained an abdominal muscle in a weekend semi-final but went ahead an played a losing final 24 yours later against Benoit Paire.
The Canadian had been set for his first appearance at the clay-court major
“I didn’t feel great during the final in Lyon, I was just trying to finish the match.
“We were waiting to maybe get some exams done today in Paris. We went this morning, and they (doctors) weren’t in favour of me playing – so after that we took the decision of pulling out.”
The Canadian who has shot to a 28th ranking said his fate was sealed in his Lyon semi-final.
“I think the damage was done. I don’t think I hurt it more in the final. I could not have saved my chances of playing here.”