PARIS • Had Rafael Nadal not lifted his first clay-court title of the season in Rome, he might have been plagued with self-doubt after suffering three consecutive semi-final defeats on the red dirt.
But securing a record 34th Masters 1000 title and his ninth Italian Open trophy has given the French Open champion the belief he can go on to make it a record-extending 12th triumph at Roland Garros.
The Spaniard got his title defence off to the perfect start, brushing aside German qualifier and world No. 180 Yannick Hanfmann 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 in the first round yesterday. After the match, Nadal referenced just how important Rome had been.
Hailing the rebuilt Court Philippe Chatrier as "very nice", he said: "It's always amazing to play here, it's been an important place in my career. My training has gone well and I played a good tournament in Rome, which was very important for my confidence. Now we'll see."
The 17-time Grand Slam champion improved his win-loss record at the French Open to 87-2 as he set up a clash with another German qualifier - world No. 114 Yannick Maden - in the second round.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic's quest to become the first man in the Open era to twice hold all four major crowns simultaneously also began with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over Pole Hubert Hurkacz. The Serb will next take on Swiss lucky loser Henri Laaksonen.
In the women's draw, former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki suffered a shock 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 first-round loss to 68th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova.
However, the Dane was bitter at the manner of her upset, hitting out at her Russian opponent as having "got very lucky".
The former Australian Open winner and 13th seed, who has yet to win a match on clay this term, fell away badly after a strong first set, but claimed that an injury had also hampered her preparations.
She said: "Lately, it's just been my calf... and sometimes, you're just unlucky as an athlete.
"You get hurt, you get injured, and you just have to try to work through that.
"She took advantage of the opportunities she got. I ran out of steam in the end and made some unforced errors that I don't usually do, so that was very frustrating."
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova had to pull out before her scheduled opener against Romania's Sorana Cirstea with an arm injury, but the Czech reassured her fans she should be fit for the year's third major tournament, which starts on July 1, tweeting that it was "a really tough decision to make".
Singapore-born Australian Astra Sharma also crashed out, losing her opener 6-3, 6-3 to American Shelby Rogers.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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