PARIS — Getting past his first-round opponent at the French Open was easy. Breaking the Big Four domination will be a lot harder for Tomas Berdych.
In an era dominated by Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, winning a major might sometimes look beyond reach. But the big-hitting Czech is not giving up hope.
“Everything has been aimed for this tournament,” Berdych said Monday after his 6-0, 7-5, 6-3 win over Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka. “I’m feeling well. I’m feeling physically, mentally strong, and that’s the best possible start that I can have.”
Under overcast skies, defending women’s champion Maria Sharapova also advanced, but had to work a lot harder against 50th-ranked Kaia Kanepi than the scoreline of her 6-2, 6-4 win suggested.
Sporting an elegant striped long-sleeved shirt, Sharapova was coughing at times, made 21 unforced errors and dropped her serve once in each set as Kanepi responded to her forehand attacks with powerful groundstrokes.
The gritty Estonian saved a match point in the final game before a double-fault gave the Russian the win.
A runner-up at Wimbledon in 2010, Berdych also made it to the semifinals at the French Open that year. The Czech is playing at Roland Garros for the 12th consecutive time and has reasons to believe he can match his best result in the French capital.
After hiring Andy Murray’s former coach Dani Vallverdu, Berdych has been in consistent form this year, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open and finishing runner-up in Doha, Rotterdam and, more recently, at the Monte Carlo Masters. But he wants more.
“Being closer or not closer in the end doesn’t really matter,” Berdych said. “Just the winners are counting, and that’s how it is.”
Berdych, who came to prominence when he won the Paris Masters in 2005, has been a permanent member of the Top 10 over the past five years. He has however failed to achieve what Stan Wawrinka did at the Australian Open last year, when he became the first man from outside the Big Four to win a major since 2009, before Marin Cilic won the US Open.
“There is the fact that there are other guys who have Grand Slam titles and I don’t have,” he said. “The only thing I can do about it is try to change that, just try to take my chances.”
On a cool and breezy day, the hot-tempered Fabio Fognini kept his cool as the 28th-seeded Italian dispatched another Japanese player, Tatsuma Ito, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. No. 11 Feliciano Lopez of Spain became the highest seeded man to tumble so far, losing 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3 to 74th-ranked Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia.
Radek Stepanek, the oldest man in the draw at 36, progressed with a four-set win over Ivan Dodig while the youngest man to compete bowed out in straight sets. Making his debut at a Grand Slam tournament, 17-year-old Frances Tiafoe lost 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 to 36th-ranked Martin Klizan of Slovakia.
Former No. 2 and 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska lost in the first round for the first time since her 2007 debut at the clay-court Grand Slam, bowing out 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 against Annika Beck.
“Maybe I’m getting older,” said the 26-year-old Radwanska. “I just want to forget about that and focus on grass.”
Eighth-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro continued her good run of form, advancing to the second round with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Monica Niculescu. The Spaniard, who was runner-up to Maria Sharapova in Rome, could face the Russian defending champion in the quarterfinals.
“I’m much more confident indeed compared to last year,” said Suarez Navarro, who lost in the last-eight last year. “One of the big differences between this year versus last year is mentally. I know what I’m doing.”
Also, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber routed Timea Babos 6-0, 6-1, former French Open finalist Samantha Stosur defeated Madison Brengle 6-1, 6-3 while local favourite and No. 29 seed Alize Cornet rallied past Roberta Vinci 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
The 26th-seeded Stosur is returning to form after reuniting last month with former coach David Taylor. After winning only eight matches in 2015, she decided last week to play in Strasbourg, where she claimed her first title this year.
Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press