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Del Potro Disappoints French Hope; Monfils Impressive In Opener

Paris, France

Gael Monfils© Getty ImagesGael Monfils made his Grand Slam breakthrough in 2008 at Roland Garros.

ATP World Tour No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro made a confident start to his Roland Garros campaign as he dismissed home hope Michael Llodra 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in a rain-interrupted clash to reach the second round on Tuesday.

The fifth seed hit 34 winners to 12 unforced errors as he broke serve six times from 10 opportunities, while not facing a break point on his own serve, to clinch victory after just 91 minutes in the pair’s first meeting. The Argentine lost only 14 points on serve in the encounter, while neutralising Llodra’s volleying expertise by only allowing the Paris native 44 per cent of the points on his net approaches.

The 20-year-old del Potro improved to a 27-8 match record on the season and to 8-3 on clay. He has reached at least the quarter-finals at eight tour-level events this season, highlighted by winning his fifth ATP World Tour title at Auckland (d. Querrey), reaching the semi-finals at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in Miami (l. to Murray) and Madrid (l. to Federer) and advancing to his second Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open (l. to Federer).

The Tandil native has progressed rapidly since his last appearance at Roland Garros, rising 63 places in the South African Airways ATP Rankings to a career-high No. 5 and capturing his first four ATP World Tour titles in the space of two months last summer. He recorded his best result in three previous appearances at the clay-court Grand Slam last year when he reached the second round, losing to Simone Bolelli.

Del Potro next will face Viktor Troicki, who battled past recent Belgrade finalist Lukasz Kubot, a qualifier from Poland, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3. Troicki, up to a career-high No. 32 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, was a member of Serbia’s winning team at the ARAG ATP World Team Championships last week in Dusseldorf – winning two of his three matches. He will look to improve on a 0-3 record against del Potro when he plays in the second round at Roland Garros for the first time.

Gael Monfils (pictured), the No. 11 seed from France, was impressive in his opening match – allowing Bobby Reynolds just six games as he defeated the American 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. The Parisian saved both break points he faced and converted all six opportunities he created on Reynolds’ serve. In hitting 28 winners to just 11 unforced errors, he won half the points on Reynolds serve, while surrendering just 22 per cent of the points on his own serve.

The 22-year-old Monfils enjoyed a Grand Slam breakthrough at Roland Garros last year, upsetting World No. 5 David Ferrer as he reached his first major semi-final – which he lost to Roger Federer in four sets. Prior to that feat, Sebastien Grosjean had been the last Frenchman to reach the semi-finals in 2001. There has not been a French champion at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah triumphed in 1983.

Monfils is making a comeback from a knee injury that has hindered him since the start of the European clay-court season, when he lost in the first round at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Monte-Carlo (l. to Tipsarevic). Earlier in the season, the right-hander reached his seventh ATP World Tour final (1-6 record) on clay at Acapulco – where he finished runner-up to Nicolas Almagro. He also scored a victory over World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the first week of the season as he reached the Doha semi-finals (l. to Roddick).

For a place in the third round, Monfils will face Romanian qualifier Victor Crivoi, who defeated fellow qualifier Simon Greul of Germany 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-2.

James Blake became the second seeded American to fall in his first-round match Tuesday, following No. 22 Mardy Fish's loss earlier in the day, bowing out to Argentine qualifier and Grand Slam debutant Leonardo Mayer 7-6(6), 7-5, 6-2. The 15th-seeded Blake had reached his second clay-court final a few weeks ago in Estoril (l. to Montanes), but has never advanced beyond the third round at Roland Garros.

The 22-year-old Mayer is playing in his sixth tour-level event, and entered the week ranked a career-high No. 93. He next takes on former World No. 2 Tommy Haas, who moved comfortably through to the second round with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win over Romanian Andrei Pavel. Haas, who is making his ninth appearance at Roland Garros, produced his best event performance in 2002 when he reached the fourth round before losing to Pavel in straight setsl.

Frenchman Marc Gicquel surprised German No. 27 seed Rainer Schuettler by winning the first 14 games of their first-round match. The 33-year-old Schuettler, who reached the Roland Garros fourth round in 2003, rallied to avoid a triple bagel but ultimately could not get back into the match and lost 6-0, 6-0, 6-4.

Gicquel next will face a second German in Andreas Beck, who was a straight sets 7-6(9), 6-4, 6-1 winner over Ivan Navarro of Spain. World No. 59 Beck, who defeated Gicquel in their one previous meeting on grass at Halle last year, improved to an 8-5 match record after equalling his best Grand Slam performance.

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