'I must imrpove to lift trophy': Nadal

Rafael Nadal got his French Open title defence off to a winning start – but the Spanish king of clay admitted he would need to improve on a sluggish first round performance.

Rafael Nadal got his French Open title defence off to a winning start – but the Spanish king of clay admitted he would need to improve on a sluggish first round performance.

Nadal, who has won the singles title at Roland Garros for the past two years, struggled at first but finally got into the groove to seal a 7-5 6-3 6-2 victory over Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina on the Philippe Chatrier court.

Nadal, the second seed, is bidding to become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 – and just the second in the last 93 years – to win three successive French Open titles.

But he knows he will have to improve if he is to raise the Musketeers Cup aloft once again.

“I did not play well,” admitted a frank Nadal, who had to battle to claim a tight first set.

“He had a big chance at 5-3 and 30-0 up to win that first set but he didn’t [take it]. But it’s the first round, and it is always difficult here in the first round.

“The court seems big and there is obviously more pressure early on. You don’t know how you are playing, and the balls are different. But I am through. And I have never played well in the first round.”

Meanwhile Andy Roddick tried to remain upbeat despite becoming the highest-profile casualty of the 2007 French Open following a four-set defeat to an inspired Igor Andreev.

The American, seeded third at Roland Garros, was well beaten by Andreev, who claimed a 3-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 defeat on the Suzanne Lenglen court mainly thanks to a dazzling array of groundstrokes.

Roddick is far from at home on the clay but he did not play badly against the Russian, the last player to defeat Rafael Nadal on the dirt – in April 2005 - before Roger Federer beat the Spaniard two weekends ago at the Masters event in Hamburg.

“I’ve had some disappointing losses here, but I actually felt like I played okay, considering,” said Roddick, who is yet to progress past the third round at Roland Garros.

“I felt like I hit the ball all right. I think a lot of credit has to go to him.”

Fernando Gonzalez, the fifth seed, was another major name to tumble today.

The Chilean was routed 6-2 6-2 6-4 by Radek Stepanek, the Czech Republic player who is attempting to make his way back into the top echelons after a long spell out through injury.

Elsewhere, Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic sealed a 6-1 7-5 7-6 (7/2) win over Frenchman Arnaud Clement and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt dismantled Max Mirnyi 6-3 6-1 6-3 on Court 2.

Tommy Robredo beat Sergio Roitman 6-4 6-3 6-2 to set up a second round clash against Konstantinos Economidis, Argentina’s Guillermo Canaswas won 6-3 6-1 6-4 winner over Victor Hanescu on Court 16 and Mikhail Youzhny was gifted the win against Jan Hernych, who lasted just nine points before retiring with a back injury.

The 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero lost the first set in his clash with American Amer Delic before rallying to claim a 6-7 (2/7) 6-3 6-3 6-4 victory, while Juan Ignacio Chela also brushed off an early setback to see off Fabrice Santoro and will meet Gael Monfils.

In the women’s draw, Jelena Jankovic wasted no time in seeing off Stephanie Foretz 6-2 6-2 and went on to hail the rise of Serbian tennis.

Jankovic is the fourth seed in the competition and is the leading light of a country whose players are rapidly making an impression on the world game.

She said: “It’s really amazing how all of a sudden we have three top-10 players (Jankovic, Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic).

“I’m really proud of that. We didn’t have anybody before, and we don’t have a tradition in tennis.

“That’s changing now and tennis is becoming really, really popular.”

Elena Dementieva beat Angelique Kerber 6-3 6-2 and Nicole Vaidisova outplayed Emmanuelle Gigliardi of Switzerland to win 6-4 6-3.

Marion Bartoli, the 18th seed, overcame Aravane Rezai 6-2 6-4 and there were straight-sets wins for 28th-seed Mara Santangelo, 23rd-seed Francesca Schiavone and 20th-seed Sybille Bammer.

But Nadia Petrova, the 11th seed, was a casualty.

The Russian has been struggling with injury recently and looked uncomfortable in her 7-5 5-7 6-0 defeat to Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic.

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