Roland Garros got underway in the “ridiculous” chill and damp of Paris on Sunday with Victoria Azarenka walking off the court, complaining that it was “too cold” to play, before Stan Wawrinka brushed aside fellow three-time major winner Andy Murray in the day’s marquee clash.
The French Open, which was pushed back from its traditional May-June slot due to the coronavirus, began in steady drizzle and temperatures struggling to reach 10 degrees (50F).
It was all too much for Azarenka, 31, who left the almost deserted Court Suzanne Lenglen after just three games.
“I don’t see the point of sitting on the court when it’s eight degrees.”
Two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka
On the court she complained: “We are sitting like ducks. It’s too cold, it’s eight degrees, I live in Florida. This is getting a little ridiculous. I’m not waiting,” she said before storming off to seek shelter.
She returned to complete a 6-1, 6-2 win, playing in black leggings and a tracksuit top.
“Does it increase the risk of players getting injured? Absolutely, I think that it does,” she added ahead of a week in which the cold, wet conditions are forecast to continue.
That echoed fears expressed by 12-time champion Rafael Nadal who said the conditions at Roland Garros combined with a new heavier ball could cause elbow and shoulder problems for players.
On Court Simonne Mathieu, Belgian 16th seed Elise Mertens and Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan twice left the arena after also halting play due to the slippery conditions.
At least the rain had cleared by the time 2015 champion Wawrinka and Murray walked out on to Court Philippe Chatrier with the retractable roof opened for the first time in the day.
Murray, playing his first clay court match since losing a five-set semi-final to the Swiss star in 2017, may have wished it had remained shut as 16th seed Wawrinka swept to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 win.
The 35-year-old fired 42 winners past wildcard Murray, now ranked at 111 in the world after being pushed to the brink of retirement by his lengthy battle with a hip injury.
“I should be analysing that hard and trying to understand why the performance was like that,” said 33-year-old Murray.
On a grim day for Britain, ninth seed and 2019 semi-finalist Johanna Konta was knocked out by teenage sensation Coco Gauff.
The 16-year-old American, making her debut in the main draw having been the junior champion just two years ago, eased to a 6-3, 6-3 win despite serving up 12 double faults.
Roland Garros top seed and 2018 champion Simona Halep swept into the second round with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Spanish world number 70 Sara Sorribes Tormo.
Playing under the roof, second-ranked Halep trailed 4-2 but claimed the final 10 games to progress in 82 minutes.
“The perfect present was that I won today.”
Italian teenager Jannik Sinner had the honour of claiming the first ever win under the roof, demolishing Belgian 11th seed David Goffin 7-5, 6-0, 6-3.
Another rookie winner was Sebastian Korda, the son of 1992 Roland Garros runner-up and 1998 Australian Open champion Petr, who saw off Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Venus Williams, now 40 and who played her first Roland Garros in 1997, saved two match points but not the third as she fell to a 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia who hadn’t won a match at a Slam in five years.
Williams, runner-up to sister Serena in 2002, has now lost in the first round in Paris for three years in a row.
Schmiedlova will face Azarenka in the second round.
Wintry weather, expected to last all week, was the last thing organisers needed after playing cat and mouse with the impact of Covid-19.
A resurgence of cases has cut attendance to just 1,000 spectators a day. In 2019, more than 500,000 people watched the two-week tournament on site.
Masks, scarves, jackets at Roland Garros
Those few who were on site on Sunday wore scarves, winter coats as well as the mandatory masks. Normally bustling shops, food outlets and other commercial stalls are shuttered.
Nadal, bidding to win a 13th Roland Garros and move level with the absent Roger Federer on a record 20 majors, plays Monday against Egor Gerasimov, the 83rd-ranked Belarusian.
World number one Novak Djokovic, chasing an 18th major, will get underway on Tuesday boasting a record in 2020 of 31 wins and just one loss due to his US Open default. The 33-year-old Serb faces Sweden’s Mikael Ymer.
Serena Williams, pursuing an elusive 24th major, starts Monday against fellow American Kristie Ahn.
By David James for Agence France-Presse (AFP)