Paris – Rafael Nadal survived a mini-crisis to rack up his 80th win at Roland Garros on Tuesday as the 10-time champion defeated Italian lucky loser Simone Bolelli 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11/9) to reach the second round.
Nadal had to save four set points in the tiebreaker before wrapping a victory which preceded the widely-awaited return to Grand Slam tennis of 23-time major winner Serena Williams.
World No 1 Nadal had been two sets up but 0-3 down in the third when rain caused the tie to be suspended late on Monday.
He quickly levelled at 3-3 on Tuesday, saved four break points in the eighth game before saving four set points.
Nadal eventually claimed the match on a third match point when Bolelli dumped a forehand into the net.
The top seeded Nadal, bidding for an 11th title in Paris and his 17th major, next faces Argentina’s Guido Pella for a place in the last 32.
“I really suffered today but it was a good test,” said Nadal who had been in danger of dropping his first set at Roland Garros since his 2015 quarter-final loss to Novak Djokovic.
“It was very difficult. Simone is a very good player and he had lots of chances and was very agrressive.
“But I am happy to have won here on this court, the most important of my career.”
Williams returns to Grand Slam tennis for the first time since the 2017 Australian Open where she won a 23rd major while also being two months pregnant.
The 36-year-old’s return comes with the great American ranked at a lowly 451, a consequence of her lengthy absence from the tour after giving birth to her daughter in September.
Williams has played just four matches in 2018, the last of which was a first-round exit to Naomi Osaka in Miami.
Three of her Slam titles have come in Paris – in 2002, 2013 and 2015 – and longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou has no doubt that Williams is capable of adding a fourth.
“Can she do it? Serena can achieve anything – after being her coach for six years, I’m even more sure of that statement,” said the Frenchman.
Williams starts her 16th Roland Garros against Czech world number 70 Kristyna Pliskova who has never won a match at the tournament in four visits.
After getting rained off the schedule on Monday night, two-time champion Maria Sharapova also makes a comeback to the tournament after missing the 2016 and 2017 editions.
Sharapova was refused a wild card last year by French Open organisers uncomfortable with being seen to hand out a free pass to a player who had just completed a 15-month doping ban.
Five-time major winner Sharapova faces Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp, ranked at 133, on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Third seed Marin Cilic reached the second round with a 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) win over Australia’s James Duckworth.
Wimbledon and Australian Open runner-up Cilic, 29, fired 47 winners and 13 aces past the 1 072th-ranked Duckworth who was playing his first match since the 2017 Australian Open.
Since that time, the 26-year-old has been battling a foot injury which required surgery in January 2017.
Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov eased to a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Australian John Millman in his first ever main-draw French Open match.
The 19-year-old, who lost in Roland Garros qualifying last year but is now the 24th seed, will next take on German world No 70 Maximilian Marterer for a place in the last 32.
“The last couple of weeks I’ve been playing unbelievable on this surface,” said Shapovalov.
This year is the first time Shapovalov has been seeded at a major after his run to the Madrid Masters semi-finals earlier this month saw him become the youngest player to break into the world’s top 30 since 2005.
Third seed and 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza defeated 2009 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6 (7/0), 6-2.
Spain’s Muguruza next faces French wildcard Fiona Ferro, ranked 257, for a place in the last 32.
With the headlines dominated by the returns of Williams and Sharapova, world number one Simona Halep will begin her latest bid to win a maiden Slam very much under the radar.
The Romanian, who blew a set and 3-0 lead to lose the 2017 final to Jelena Ostapenko, faces Alison Riske, the 83rd-ranked American.