PARIS: Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova begin their Roland Garros title defenses on Monday while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga carries the burden of trying to end France’s 30-year wait for a home champion.
Nadal, the seven-time champion and with a Paris record of 52 wins against just one loss, starts against Germany’s Daniel Brands, the world number 60, who has lost all four first round matches he has contested at Roland Garros.
Nadal is playing his first Grand Slam tournament since a shock second round defeat at Wimbledon last year sent him home to Manacor to rest his suspect left knee.
His seven-month absence meant he missed the Olympics as well as the US and Australian Opens.
But he has been the most successful player since his return in February, winning six titles from eight finals.
Despite that formidable record coming into Paris, the 26-year-old Nadal was desperate to cool the hype over an unprecedented eighth French Open title.
“The Grand Slams are not the only tournaments on the tour,” said the Spanish third seed.
“When I go on court playing in a Grand Slam or playing in a Masters 1000 or playing in a 500 or 250, my feeling is try my best and try to play with the same passion in every tournament.”
Sharapova, seeded two behind Serena Williams, starts against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei while 2011 champion Li Na, the sixth seeded Chinese star, opens proceedings on Court Philippe Chatrier against Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues.
Russian star Sharapova opened her claycourt season with a title win in Stuttgart, but was then easily beaten by Williams in Madrid before pulling out of the Rome quarterfinals with an illness.
She currently stands 2-13 against Williams and has not beaten the American since 2004, the year she won Wimbledon.
Tsonga, the sixth seed and looking to become the first French player to win the men’s title since Yannick Noah in 1983, faces Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia.