French players feeling weight of expectations

From its highest-seeded player to its biggest long-shot, France
is off to a pretty good start at this year’s French Open.

With a tournament-high 32 French players in the draw – 21 men
and 11 women – the host country already has 10 locals in the second
round with 10 more yet to take the court in the first round.

”It’s never easy to start a Grand Slam at home,” said
ninth-seeded Gael Monfils, the highest-ranked French player at the
tournament. ”I was a bit tense today. Here again, I think I do it
on myself alone. I put pressure on myself.”

Despite the nerves on Monday, however, the 2008 French Open
semifinalist advanced to the second round by beating Bjorn Phau of
Germany 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-0.

No man from France has won the title at Roland Garros since
Yannick Noah in 1983.

”The first two or three rounds are the most difficult ones to
manage in your head, and then when the tournament has really
started, it’s totally different,” Monfils said.

Monfils and No. 13 Richard Gasquet both advanced as expected,
but joining them in the second round was Stephane Robert.

The 31-year-old qualifier pulled off the biggest surprise of the
tournament thus far, beating No. 6 Tomas Berdych of the Czech
Republic 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 9-7.

”It’s my most beautiful win,” said Robert, who saved a match
point in the fifth set. ”You have to be present and ready on the
key day. Today I managed to win against the No. 6 in the world, so
that’s big on paper.”

Gasquet, who defeated Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 7-5,
6-3, 6-0, has only gone beyond the second round once at Roland
Garros, but he got off to a strong start Monday.

”Unfortunately I was never able to play very well here in the
French Open before,” the 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist said. ”Too
many times I was not able to go very far, so I hope this time I
will do better.”

No French woman has won the French Open singles title since Mary
Pierce in 2000, but much of the pressure this year is falling on
11th-seeded Marion Bartoli.

Although she lost the first set on center court on Monday, the
2007 Wimbledon finalist rallied to beat Anna Tatishvili of Georgia
1-6, 6-2, 6-1.

”The beginning was appalling,” Bartoli said. ”I was doing
anything silly I could. Even in my worst nightmares I wouldn’t have
thought of such a bad start.

”I managed to get through because I could have lost my
first-round match, but I fought with the weapons I could find
today.”