Roger Federer wins on French Open return, Angelique Kerber falls in women’s draw

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Roger Federer won in straight sets in the first round.

World number five Angelique Kerber was stunned in straight sets by world number 81 Anastasia Potapova to become the biggest name to fall as the French Open got underway at Roland Garros.

Key points:

  • Roger Federer made his first appearance at the French Open since 2015
  • Three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber was knocked out in straight sets
  • Australian Alexi Popyrin won in four sets

However, former champion Roger Federer marked his return to Paris with a straightforward 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Lorenzo Sonego.

Making his first appearance in the French Open since 2015, Federer entered a refurbished Court Philippe Chatrier greeted by the sun peeking through the clouds and the full-throated support of spectators in their designer sunglasses, straw hats and sweaters tied over their shoulders.

Were it permitted, perhaps some ticket-holders would have embraced Federer right then and there, delivering a kiss on each cheek, as if reunited with an old friend at a sidewalk cafe.

Alas, the welcome was limited to wild applause and enthusiastic chants of his first name before and during the 101-minute contest.

“The reception I got today was crazy. Was really nice to see a full stadium for a first round like this,” Federer said.

“I feel that the public missed me. And I missed them, as well.”

Federer’s presence at the year’s second Grand Slam tournament was the highlight of day one, which included losses by multiple major winners Kerber, Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Meanwhile, there were victories for Sloane Stephens, Garbiñe Muguruza, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori.

The only Australian in action on day one was 19-year-old wildcard recipient Alexi Popyrin.

The world number 109 beat Frenchman Ugo Humbert in four sets, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (12), 6-3.

He will take on 31st seed Laslo Dere of Serbia in the second round, with the winner facing a potential third-round clash against Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori.

Injured Kerber had low expectations

Kerber has been dealing with an injured foot, although claimed that it was “not my excuse” as she was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by the Russian number nine Potapova.

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The reigning Wimbledon champion admitted to having low expectations after pulling out of warm-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome in the past two weeks.

That was the opening match in the largely rebuilt main stadium, a structure of concrete and glass that is expected to have a retractable roof by the 2020 French Open and now features padded beige seats instead of plastic green ones.

The 2016 champion Muguruza inaugurated the new 5,290-seat Court Simonne Mathieu, which is surrounded by greenhouses displaying tropical plants, with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Taylor Townsend of the United States.

Later in that same spot, the 38-year-old Williams, a seven-time grand slam winner and the 2002 runner-up in Paris, exited in the first round for the fourth time in the past seven years at Roland Garros. 

She was broken in seven of her nine service games during a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Ukranian number nine seed Elina Svitolina.

Angelique Kerber looks away with pursed lips with her hand held up in the air

Federer happy to be back

Meanwhile, Federer appeared delighted to make his return to a tournament he won a decade ago, completing a career Grand Slam, but sat out each of the past three years.

In 2016, he was sidelined by a back problem, ending his then-record streak of 65 consecutive appearances at majors.

Federer then skipped the entire clay-court circuit in each of the past two seasons to focus on preparing for grass and hard courts.

Not since a quarter-final loss to Stan Wawrinka four years ago had Federer competed at Roland Garros, which is why he described himself on Sunday as “quite tense at the start”.

Roger Federer claps his audience

His 73rd-ranked opponent Sonego, who was making his French Open debut, 4-0 after less than 15 minutes, then went up a set and 4-0 in the second after 40.

“There are times when you recognise that he makes the difficult things look easy. It’s incredible,” Sonego said.

“All you can do is hope he messes up now and then, because otherwise, it’s really hard.

“In the important moments, he raises his level and turns into a computer. He never makes the wrong choice.”

While so much of the title speculation is focused on Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — both make their bows on day two — Federer enjoys the unusual-for-him position of lowered expectations.

“It’s nice to be an outsider,” Federer said. 

“That’s how I feel, anyhow. Just see how it goes, you know … this is not a show I’m putting on; this is the truth: I really don’t know how far I can go in this event.”