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Djokovic, Nadal and Serena primed for Paris openers


Serbia's Novak Djokovic trains ahead of the 2016 Roland Garros French Tennis Open in Paris on May 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Eric FEFERBERG

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic trains ahead of the 2016 Roland Garros French Tennis Open in Paris on May 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Eric FEFERBERG

World number one Novak Djokovic, record nine-time champion Rafael Nadal and women’s title-holder Serena Williams begin their French Open campaigns on Tuesday with the forecast far more promising after a rain-hit first two days at Roland Garros.

Three-time Roland Garros finalist Djokovic will embark on another quest to complete a career Grand Slam with Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun, the world number 95, his first-round opponent on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The Serb has won four of the last five majors with his only failure in that timeframe a four-set defeat to an inspired Stan Wawrinka in last year’s Paris final.

“I got ten matches out of two weeks, which is maximum I could get out of Madrid and Rome, and it was a perfect way of getting the match play that I needed before French Open,” said Djokovic, who warmed up for the tournament by winning a record 29th Masters title in Spain a fortnight ago.

“Of course the expectations are big not just from my side but from people around knowing that this is the only Grand Slam I never won.

“I still feel like I have plenty of more years ahead of me, which gives me more comfort in terms of opportunities I’m going to have at the title of Roland Garros, which releases more pressure for me this year.”

Nadal suffered just a second ever defeat in Paris when he lost to Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals, but the Spanish fourth seed remains as committed as ever in the hunt for a 10th French Open crown.

His first round encounter against Sam Groth on Court Suzanne Lenglen appears a total mismatch, with the 100th-ranked Australian still looking for his first main draw win at Roland Garros.

However, the Australian boasts one of the game’s most powerful serves and Nadal is wary of facing Groth for the first time.

“Well, he has a huge serve. He’s uncomfortable first round. He’s a difficult one,” said Nadal.

“You need to be ready to suffer a little bit during the match, because I know it’s going to be difficult to have breaks.”

– Murray fights back –
Andy Murray will resume his first-round tie against 37-year-old Radek Stepanek after recovering from two sets down to move within two games of forcing a decider on Monday before play was suspended due to darkness.

The world number two will resume on Tuesday trailing 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 4-2 after fighting back against the oldest player in the draw.

Women’s defending champion Serena Williams will hope it’s third time lucky as she tries to successfully retain the title, having seen two previous attempts in 2003 and 2014 end prematurely.

The world number one, who lifted her first trophy for nine months at the Italian Open last weekend, gets underway against 77th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova.

“I think now it’s different because I want to win more than I think most people ever, but also I think it’s different now because I don’t have anything to prove and I don’t have anything — it’s just a different feeling,” said Williams of her mindset when approaching a tournament as the defending champion.

“Whereas five, ten years ago, oh, I’m defending and I feel that pressure. Now it’s like I’m defending, I’m in Paris, it’s cool, and I’m having, you know, the time of my life. I’m just happy to be here.”

Williams, whose bid for a calendar Grand Slam was shattered by Roberta Vinci at last year’s US Open, remains one major title shy of Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22.

Angelique Kerber, the Australian Open champion, will start against Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, but the third seed’s preparations have been far from ideal.

Kerber suffered successive opening match defeats in Madrid and Rome before withdrawing from last week’s Nuremberg Open with a shoulder injury.

Two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka, the fifth seed, faces Karin Knapp of Italy.

Former champions Ana Ivanovic (2008) and Francesca Schiavone (2010) are both in first-round action, while seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams, a 2002 runner-up in Paris, opens against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.

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