- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PARIS | The king of clay eclipsed another mark Monday, this time breaking the French Open men’s record for consecutive wins.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal looked his usual dominant self in the first round, beating Marcos Daniel of Brazil 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 for his 29th straight win on the red clay at Roland Garros.

“At the beginning, I didn’t quite get the best feelings, but I won in three sets. That’s very positive,” Nadal said. “I should have won more easily… but it was a difficult match.”

Roger Federer, the man Nadal beat in the last three French Open finals, had an easier time in his opening match, defeating Alberto Martin of Spain 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Dinara Safina, the top-seeded player in the women’s draw, advanced, as did No. 3 Venus Williams and unseeded Maria Sharapova.

Nadal’s win bettered the French Open record held by Bjorn Borg, who won 28 straight from 1978 to 1981. Nadal also equaled the overall tournament record, matching the 29 straight that Chris Evert won from 1974 to 1975 and from 1979 to 1981. Evert did not play at the French Open from 1976 to 1978.

Nadal was broken three times by Daniel, but the top-seeded Spaniard remained perfect on the French Open’s red clay as he tries to become the first player to win five straight titles at Roland Garros.

“His backhand is better than his forehand, but I think I made it a bit easy for him,” Nadal said. “That’s my opinion.”

Federer has won 13 major titles, but he still needs to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam.

Against Martin, who missed the last two French Open tournaments because of injury and then by failing to qualify, Federer appeared to play effortlessly.

“Once I got the upper hand, things were pretty much in control,” Federer said. “I served well when I had to, and mixed it up. That’s how I want to play. I’m happy to be through without a fright.”

Also advancing on the men’s side were sixth-seeded Andy Roddick of the United States, No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, No. 17 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 23 Robin Soderling of Sweden, No. 24 Jurgen Melzer of Austria, No. 28 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, No. 30 Victor Hanescu of Romania and No. 32 Paul-Henri Mathieu of France. No. 19 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic lost to Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3.

Roddick beat French wild-card entry Romain Jouan 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to win a match at the French Open for the first time since 2005.

On the women’s side, Safina routed Anne Keothavong of Britain 6-0, 6-0, spraying shots to all parts of the court.

Sharapova’s tennis is not yet back to her lofty standards after shoulder surgery in October and only four singles matches in the past 10 months. The 64th-ranked Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus is not the sort of opponent who normally would trouble Sharapova, yet there was trouble Monday.

Still, a win is a win, and Sharapova’s first match at a major tournament in nearly a year ended with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Yakimova and a spot in the French Open’s second round. But it will take more than that performance for Sharapova to erase the uncertainty that comes with such a long layoff.

“This is the first time in my career where I can really say I don’t have any expectations,” the three-time major champion said.

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