Published: 09:46, May 27, 2024
Alcaraz eases injury fears with dominant Roland Garros display, Osaka battles on
By Reuters
Spain's Carlos Alcaraz plays a shot against Jeffrey John Wolf of the U.S. during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, May 26, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

PARIS - Carlos Alcaraz eased into the second round of the French Open after shrugging off pre-tournament concerns about his forearm while fellow seeds Andrey Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz advanced with hard-fought wins as the Grand Slam began on Sunday.

Much of the focus was on title contender Alcaraz's recent right forearm injury in the build-up to the year's second major with the 21-year-old Spaniard saying he still had lingering concerns ahead of his clash with American J.J. Wolf.

READ MORE: Machac upsets Djokovic in Geneva Open semis

But cheered on by the Philippe Chatrier crowd, the two-times Grand Slam champion who skipped three of the four tune-up events he planned to participate in, thumped the lucky loser 6-1 6-2 6-1 and will face qualifier Jesper De Jong next.

"I'm really happy to be back here in Paris and competing again. It's been a difficult month for me... I love playing tennis," third seed Alcaraz said.

"To stay away from that was hurting me. I tried everything I could to be at 100 percent in Roland Garros to show my best. I think I did it today."

Russia's Andrey Rublev plays a shot against Japan's Taro Daniel during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, May 26, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

Four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka and 2017 winner Jelena Ostapenko also advanced before rain briefly interrupted play but the action continued on Suzanne Lenglen with a new retractable roof inaugurated earlier in the day deployed.

Osaka's reward for a battling 6-1 4-6 7-5 win over Italian Lucia Bronzetti could be a meeting with defending champion Iga Swiatek in the second round.

The top-seeded Swiatek faces Leolia Jeanjean on Monday and should have little trouble dispatching the Frenchwoman.

"I'm honestly really excited. I watched her a lot when I was pregnant," said Osaka, who returned to the tour in January after a 15-month maternity break.

READ MORE: Nadal to play Zverev, Swiatek faces qualifier at French Open

"Honestly, I think it's an honor to play her in the French Open, because she's won more than once here."

Ostapenko continued her strong season by beating Romania's Jaqueline Cristian 6-4 7-5, but it was the end if the road for fellow former champion Barbora Krejcikova who was beaten 7-6(3) 6-4 by Viktorija Golubic.

Pushed hard

Madrid champion and sixth seed Rublev was pushed hard by Osaka's compatriot Taro Daniel before securing a 6-2 6-7(3) 6-3 7-5 victory while Polish eighth seed Hurkacz was dragged the distance by another Japanese player in Shintaro Mochizuki.

Hurkacz returned from the rain break to seal a 4-6 6-3 3-6 6-0 6-3 victory.

Grigor Dimitrov, the 10th seed, had no such trouble as he completed a smooth 6-4 6-3 6-4 win over Aleksandar Kovacevic.

Earlier, thousands of spectators made their way through the gates, with their panama hats and sunglasses put to good use in the bright afternoon sunshine before the umbrellas came out.

With fit-again 14-times champion Rafa Nadal back in Paris but playing fourth seed Alexander Zverev only on Monday, they gathered in large numbers to see Alcaraz showcase his skills.

Japan's Naomi Osaka plays a shot against Italy's Lucia Bronzetti during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, May 26, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

"I really want to see an American go far but I think Alcaraz is going to follow in Nadal's footsteps," said Jake, an American fan from New York who was attending his first French Open.

"He's from Spain and he's been playing really good in the different tournaments he's been in. He's won the US Open, he's won Wimbledon and I think he's coming for the French Open."

French hopes of a first men's champion since Yannick Noah's triumph over four decades ago were dampened somewhat earlier as their number one player and 17th seed Ugo Humbert crashed to a 6-4 2-6 6-4 6-3 defeat by Italian Lorenzo Sonego.

READ MORE: Djokovic breezes into semis of Geneva Open

But French fans who were out in full force had reason to celebrate as Caroline Garcia and Richard Gasquet kept the flag flying with battling victories.

"This year, we're starting with the first day so we hope to see some French players, which isn't the case when you go in the middle of the week," said local fan Alex Lefevre, who has been a regular with his eight-year-old son.

Ageing warriors Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray both struggled with apparent niggles in their evening session encounter, but it was the Swiss former champion who prevailed 6-4 6-4 6-2 in what is likely to be the Briton's final appearance in the major.

Wawrinka shared a warm embrace and a heartfelt conversation with the beaten Murray at the net when the match finished.