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.”