French Open Lookahead: Nadal-Groth; Djokovic, Williams start


By Howard Fendrich

AP Tennis Writer

PARIS — Rafael Nadal has lost two French Open matches in his career. His first-round opponent has lost only one.

The difference? Nadal is 70-2 at Roland Garros, owner of a record nine championships. Sam Groth is 0-1.

Sure sets up as a mismatch.

The No. 4-seeded Nadal makes his 2016 debut at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament Tuesday on Court Suzanne Lenglen against Groth, a gifted server who is ranked 100th and never has won a tour-level title on any surface. And while Nadal is 363-34 on red clay, including 19-4 this season, Groth is 1-3 as a pro on the stuff — and his most recent match on it was a first-round loss at Roland Garros a year ago.

Groth, a 28-year-old from Australia, is most successful on faster surfaces such as hard and grass courts, where his already speedy serves can pick up pace.

Nadal tends to talk up anyone he’s about to play, and Groth is no different.

“Well, he has a huge serve, no? He’s (an) uncomfortable first-round (opponent). He’s a difficult one,” Nadal said. “I know (it’s going to) be difficult to have breaks.”

The only matches Nadal has lost at the French Open came in last year’s quarterfinals against Novak Djokovic, and in 2009’s fourth round against Robin Soderling.

Otherwise, Nadal has two impressive winning streaks in Paris — one that lasted 31 matches, the other 39.

He will try to start a new run this year.

Here’s a look at what else is happening at the French Open on Tuesday:

DJOKOVIC BEGINS HIS BID: Aiming to complete a career Grand Slam and win his fourth major title in a row, the top-seeded Djokovic will play his first-round match against 95th-ranked Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan. Lu’s best showing at a major tournament came at Wimbledon in 2010, when he reached the quarterfinals before losing to — yes, you guessed it — Djokovic.

WILLIAMS AT NO. 1: Serena Williams begins defense of her title — and renews her pursuit of a 22nd Grand Slam singles trophy, which would equal Steffi Graf’s Open-era record — against 77th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia. Williams easily won their only other match, 6-1, 6-1 on a hard court at Toronto in 2013. The American’s current stay at No. 1 in the WTA rankings will reach 172 weeks — more than three years — by the end of the French Open. Depending on her results in Paris, and those of No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 3 Angelique Kerber, Williams could be overtaken atop the rankings after the tournament. Kerber plays her first-round match Tuesday, as do several other top women, including No. 5 Victoria Azarenka and No. 9 Venus Williams.

MURRAY BACK AT IT: Second-seeded Andy Murray will be hoping to complete what would be the ninth comeback from a two-set deficit in his career, resuming his first-round match against Radek Stepanek, a 37-year-old qualifier who is the oldest man in the field. He’s also one of the Grand Slam-record 51 men in the draw who are 30 or older. Stepanek took the first two sets 6-3, 6-3, and Murray then started to get into the swing of things, taking the third 6-0 and leading the fourth 4-2 when play was suspended because of darkness Monday night. Another match continuing Tuesday is No. 15 John Isner of the United States against John Millman of Australia. They split a pair of tiebreakers Monday.

By Howard Fendrich

AP Tennis Writer

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