All eyes on Nadal in Paris

2011-05-24 12:02

Paris - Rafael Nadal, once the undisputed king of clay, opens the defence of his French Open title against John Isner later on Tuesday with the name of Novak Djokovic ringing in his ears after two punishing defeats by the Serb.

The Spanish top seed should have no trouble disposing of the American who is better known for his record 11 hours five minute epic against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon last year than his clay-court prowess.

Nadal, who has beaten Isner on both their previous meetings, will be out to prove to the discerning Paris crowd that a sixth crown in seven years is well within his sights despite Djokovic's sensational start to the season.

The second seed made short work of Thiemo De Bakker in his first round match on Monday, routing the Dutchman 6-2 6-1 6-3 to record his 38th consecutive win since the start of the season including final victories over Nadal on clay in Madrid and Rome.

Third seed Roger Federer also cruised past Feliciano Lopez on Monday to reach the second round and though he moaned about the new balls being used at this year's tournament, he doubted rival Nadal would be troubled.

"I don't think it matters much what kind of balls you give Nadal on clay. He's gonna be a good player," the Swiss said.

The same packed and sunbathed stands are expected to greet Nadal on his return to the second grand slam of the season but, thanks to Djokovic, something in the balmy air has changed since he walloped Robin Soderling in last year's final.

Sweden's Soderling is also in action on Tuesday against German Benjamin Becker while fourth seed Andy Murray opens up with a first-round encounter against Frenchman Eric Prodon.

In the women's draw, all eyes will be on world number two Kim Clijsters when she steps out last on Court Suzanne Lenglen to test her injured ankle against Belarussian Anastasiya Yakimova.

The Belgian, who has never won the title at Roland Garros and has hinted she could retire for good next year, has not played in nearly two months after suffering a couple of niggles and then hurting her ankle at her cousin's wedding.

In a wide open women's draw, Maria Sharapova is riding the crest of a wave after triumphing in Rome last week and plays Mirjana Lucic in her first round tie looking to add a touch of glamour to so far pedestrian proceedings alongside the Bois de Boulogne.