Azarenka Avoids French Open Upset; Federer Matches Connors Mark

Azarenka Avoids French Open Upset; Federer Matches Connors Mark
Bulgaria's Victoria Azarenka serves to Italy's Alberta Brianti during their Women's Singles 1st Round tennis match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris. Thomas Coex/AFP/GettyImages

Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka rebounded to avoid an opening-round upset at the French Open as men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic won in straight sets and Roger Federer secured a record-tying 233rd Grand Slam victory.

Azarenka of Belarus lost the first set and was down 4-0 in the second yesterday before beating 105th-ranked Alberta Brianti of Italy 6-7 (6-8), 6-4, 6-2. She avoided becoming the first top seed to lose in the first round at Roland Garros since women started playing in Paris in 1925.

“Bad days happen,” Azarenka said at a news conference. “The important thing is how I came out of it.”

Azarenka won the Australian Open in January for her first Grand Slam title, and yesterday’s victory lifted her record this year to 36-3. Two weeks ago, she pulled out of the Rome Masters with a shoulder injury after winning her first match.

Li Na, who last year became the first Chinese player to win a major singles championship, opened her title defense by defeating Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-1.

The seventh seed hasn’t been able to repeat her success at Roland Garros at the other majors. She was ousted in the second round at Wimbledon and lost her first match at the U.S. Open. At January’s Australian Open, she didn’t get past the fourth round after being runner-up in 2011.

Up, Down

“For me, it’s always like up, down, up, down,” Li said. “It’s tough for me to stay same level all the time.”

Djokovic, who’s trying to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four Grand Slams in a row, beat Potito Starace of Italy 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-1. The Serb hit 39 winners against the 97th-ranked Starace.

“I tried to be aggressive on the court and take my chances,” Djokovic said. “At the start I was still trying to find the rhythm and movement on the court.”

Today at Roland Garros, Spain’s Rafael Nadal begins his quest to become the only man to win the French Open seven times when he takes on Simone Bolelli of Italy. Serena Williams of the U.S., the champion a decade ago, plays France’s Virginie Razzano, while No. 4 Andy Murray of Britain faces Japan’s Tatsuma Ito.

Federer beat Germany’s Tobias Kamke 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 yesterday to tie Connors’s mark of Grand Slam victories.

The Swiss, who has won 16 major singles championships, took the title at Roland Garros in 2009. He may meet Djokovic in the semifinals after beating the Serb at the same stage last year.

“I’m very happy because Jimmy Connors was a huge champion, so it’s a great pleasure,” Federer told reporters. “That record is a big one, because of the longevity.”

Awesome Americans

Women’s No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland advanced in straight sets along with eighth-seeded Marion Bartoli of France and Dominika Cibulkova, the No. 15 seed from Slovakia.

No. 12 Sabine Lisicki of Germany was ousted by 167th-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands, one of 10 U.S. women to make the second round so far in Paris.

“It really shows that some of the Americans are coming through playing tough, grinding it out here on the clay,” Mattek-Sands said after her 6-4, 6-3 win. “It’s awesome.”

Vera Zvonareva, the former world No. 2 from Russia, yesterday pulled out of the tournament with a shoulder injury.

Men’s No. 15 Feliciano Lopez of Spain quit his match against Florent Serra when trailing the Frenchman 5-0 in the first set.

No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and 10th-seeded American John Isner advanced in straight sets. Gilles Simon, the No. 11 seed from France, came back from a set down to defeat Ryan Harrison of the U.S.

Main-Draw Debut

Brian Baker, a wild-card entry from the U.S. ranked 141 in the world, beat 2002 Wimbledon semifinalist Xavier Malisse of Belgium 6-3, 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-5).

Baker, who reached the junior final at the 2003 French Open, hadn’t played in the main draw of a Grand Slam event since losing to Malisse in the second round of the 2005 U.S. Open. He was sidelined for about six years after five surgeries before returning to competitive tennis in July 2011.

He tuned up for his main-draw debut at Roland Garros by reaching the final of the ATP World Tour tournament in Nice.

“It’s definitely something I didn’t envision I’d say a couple months ago or a year ago,” Baker said in a news conference. “But the last couple weeks my game has come around and I’m feeling a lot healthier and definitely playing some good tennis.”

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