US Open winner Dominic Thiem navigated a testing first-round French Open tie against former major champion Marin Cilic on Monday (Sept 28).
Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in Paris the past two years, defeated 2014 US Open champion Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in their second encounter at a Major this month.
Having captured his maiden Grand Slam in New York, Thiem is trying to become the only man in the Open era to win his first two Majors at successive tournaments.
A steady display from Thiem saw the Austrian break Cilic six times under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier on another gloomy day at Roland Garros, pushed back from its customary May-June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I really love this tournament, it’s by far my best Grand Slam tournament so far,” said Thiem, who plays American qualifier Jack Sock in the second round.
“I’m really happy with my first round. The transition to the cold conditions and clay worked really well.”
He added: “I’m from Austria so I know how it is to play in these cold conditions. I love it when it’s not too fast. I felt well from the first moment I came here.”
RAIN HOLDS UP PLAY AGAIN
Play on Monday was initially delayed by more persistent rain. Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova defeated Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-5 in the only match to start on time under the new roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Dutch fifth seed Kiki Bertens later recovered from a poor start to overhaul 112th-ranked Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.
In the women’s draw, Serena Williams’s attempt to clinch an elusive 24th Grand Slam title on her least successful surface got off to a successful start as she beat fellow American Kristie Ahn 7-6 (7-2), 6-0.
She has not gone beyond the last 16 in Paris since her defeat to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final, but is confident of making a challenge for a fourth Roland Garros crown.
“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could perform,” said Williams, who turned 39 on Saturday and is playing at Roland Garros for the 18th time, having made her debut in 1998.
“I’m not at 100 per cent physically. But I don’t know any athlete that ever plays physically when they’re feeling perfect. That’s just something I think as athletes we have to play with.”
Her last Major came at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant. Since giving birth to daughter Olympia three years ago, she has reached four finals in nine attempts without being able to land a 24th Slam to equal Australian Margaret Court.
Overall prize money at this year’s event is down 11 per cent at €14.491 million (S$23.1 million), but players beaten in the first round will receive €60,000 – a 30 per cent increase compared to last year.