PARIS, (Reuters) – Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka came back to earth with a thump on the sodden clay at the French Open when he was beaten by Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round yesterday to become the tournament’s first big casualty.
The Swiss third seed threw away a 3-1 lead in the first set and even though he pulled level by winning the second set he capitulated to a 6-4 5-7 6-2 6-0 defeat against a man who has never gone past the third round at Roland Garros.
Dealing with expectation has never been a problem for Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal and they both raced into the second round on a damp day in the French capital.
Second seed Djokovic played the funny man as he slithered to a 6-1 6-2 6-4 win over Portugal’s Joao Sousa while defending champion Nadal slipped into his customary role of cold-blooded assassin against Robbie Ginepri.
Djokovic had criticised the surface on the Philippe Chatrier show court for being too damp after several days of rain and Wawrinka got bogged down in the heavy conditions against an inspired opponent.
He is the first Australian Open champion to lose in the first round of the following French Open since Czech Petr Korda in 1998, and Wawrinka admitted the defeat had shown him how far he was from joining Nadal and Djokovic at the top of the game.
“The match wasn’t good at all,” said Wawrinka, who was close to tears in the post-match interview. “I was trying to find something and I didn’t – I don’t have an answer why I didn’t play that good. It’s a tough loss, for sure.”
Wawrinka admitted a first grand slam title had changed his life and expectations more than he could have imagined.
“It’s a different story now and a different picture for my career. I need to put the puzzle back together and I didn’t find all the pieces yet. Everything was terrible today, I was completely flat.”
Nadal, bidding for a record-extending ninth title at Roland Garros, hunted down wildcard Ginepri during a first set that ended 6-0 in the Spaniard’s favour.
The American greeted his capture of the first game of the second set with a clenched fist of mock celebration but defeat, while somewhat delayed, was inevitable as he folded 6-0 6-3 6-0.
Kei Nishikori, the ninth seed, had been the day’s biggest casualty before Wawrinka’s demise when the Japanese slumped to a 7-6(4) 6-1 6-2 defeat by Slovakia’s Martin Klizan.
The start of play was delayed for about one hour, and Maria Sharapova managed to finish off fellow Russian Ksenia Pervak for the loss of only three games on the Philippe Chatrier show court before rain returned to stop play for another hour.
Djokovic was leading 4-1 at the time and, on the resumption, broke Sousa to love. He then recovered from 0-40 on his own serve to wrap up the first set with two crushing first serves.
Rain began to fall again with the Serb, who is strongly fancied to end Nadal’s hold on the title, preparing to serve for the set at 5-2. Djokovic sat, looking slightly ridiculous, in a white hooded waterproof jacket as the umpire decided whether to take the players off court.
Djokovic made a series of faces at the camera before inviting a ball boy to share his seat, and a soft drink. They chatted under a large umbrella to the delight of the crowd.
When play resumed after five minutes, they shook hands politely before resuming their previous roles. “It was a nice, fun time, something unusual for the grand slams,” said Djokovic.
“We waited for around 10 minutes in the pouring rain on the court, so I felt there’s something I should do and make a new friend. He accepted the offer to sit down, which I didn’t think he would do.”
During the match, the players’ first serves were kicking up sprays of wet clay. “The court is not in great shape at the moment, balls get heavier, and the more difficult it is to move. Everything becomes slower, so it is more effort on your body,” Djokovic said.
Nadal, playing on the Court Suzanne Lenglen, was held in check by world No.279 Ginepri for several games in the second set but his relentless power and attritional accuracy from the baseline proved too much for the 31-year-old American.
“Obviously coming from Tallahassee Challenger no one is hitting like that,” Ginepri told reporters.
Nadal, ever the perfectionist at a venue where he has suffered only one defeat in a decade, said: “I finished the match playing not that good, but it was a solid start.”
The last few games were played in weak sunshine but the forecast is for further periods of rain during the first week of the second grand slam of the year.