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Matches of the day: former champs seek second crowns

By Michael Beattie   on   Tuesday 30 May 2017
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Reigning Roland-Garros champion Novak Djokovic and 2010 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova are among the title favourites once more in 2017.

Five players still in contention at Roland-Garros know how it feels to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires and Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen – to come through seven battles on the terre battue and emerge victorious. But for two – Novak Djokovic and Garbiñe Muguruza – the first round this year was something new once more: the first time they walked out on Philippe-Chatrier Court to defend their French Open crowns.

“Coming to this tournament for first time as a defending champion gave me, probably more than anything else, relief,” said 12-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, who faces Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the second round on Wednesday. “The anticipation and the pressure and expectations that I had also for myself – but all the other people around me – in the last five years before my 2016 Roland Garros victory was really big.”

Something else new for Djokovic – the sight of Andre Agassi sat in his players’ box, the 1999 French champion joining the No.2 seed on a trial basis after he made wholesale changes to his support crew shortly before Roland-Garros. The ‘Djogassi’ era began with a workmanlike victory over Marcel Granollers who, like Sousa, has still never won a set against the reigning champion. Djokovic beat the world No.59 Sousa in the first round here in Paris three years ago, one of three straight-set wins.

Sousa reached a career-high ranking of No.28 in 2016 on the back of his best season at the majors to date, reaching the third round everywhere but Paris. But the 28-year-old has struggled this year, particularly on clay – his five-set opening win over Janko Tipsarevic ended a run of six straight defeats on clay that saw his ranking slump outside the top 50.

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Kuznetsova and Dodin have never met on tour before. The Russian is one of two former winners left in the women’s draw following reigning champion Muguruza’s opening win over 2010 champ Francesca Schiavone, and is regarded in many circles as a contender to emerge victorious for a second time, following her trophy-winning run in 2009.

A title in Moscow and a semi-final at Singapore's WTA Finals last year cemented Kuznetsova's berth in the top 10, while appearances in the final at Indian Wells, where she beat four top-30 opponents including world No.3 Karolina Pliskova, and semis in Madrid have been her stand-out performances this year. The Russian overcame a tricky opening assignment against American Christine McHale, who entered the match with a winning record against the 31-year-old.

Dodin claimed her first main-draw win at Roland-Garros in the first round, beating fellow hard hitter Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3. The 20-year-old is enjoying her best WTA season to date, reaching the second round at the Australian Open, the quarter-finals in Budapest, and coming through qualifying to reach the third round in Madrid, where she beat world No.5 Dominika Cibulkova along the way. Kuznetsova has the game to tame the Frenchwoman’s power and fight fire with fire, but there could be fireworks should both find their range early.

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