PARIS, May 29 (Reuters) - A cacophony of noise on Chatrier Court signalled the belated appearance of Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros on Wednesday before a parade of home players threatened to turn the French Open into a purely domestic affair.
Fourteen French players were in singles action on another chilly day in the capital with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the sixth seed, leading the charge with a 7-6 (4) 6-4 6-3 victory against Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen to reach the third round.
Gael Monfils was hoping to follow up his shock first-round defeat of fifth seed Tomas Berdych against Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis while 19-year-old Caroline Garcia faced the biggest challenge of all against world number one Serena Williams.
Azarenka, who had to wait until day four to play her first-round match against Russia’s Elena Vesnina because of Tuesday’s rain, found her clay feet with a 6-1 6-4 victory.
The stadium was barely one-third full as Azarenka went through her paces but the low decibel level from the seats was offset by the grunts, howls and groans from the two players.
Belarussian Azarenka just about won the noise battle, although Vesnina ran her close, and she had little trouble winning the match either.
Asked what she did while waiting for the rain to stop on Tuesday, the 23-year-old said she watched singing competition “The Voice” on television.
“There’s this girl. Her name is Judith. She was a duet singer with Michael Jackson. She’s absolutely incredible. I mean, I have no idea how sound like that can come out of somebody’s mouth.”
Tsonga is regarded as France’s best hope of a first men’s grand-slam champion since 1983 when Yannick Noah captured the hearts of the public at Roland Garros by beating Mats Wilander.
He took a while to loosen up against the steady Nieminen who got the first break of serve and had to save a set point before overpowering his opponent with some impressive tennis.
The 28-year-old Tsonga, the last Frenchman to reach a major final in Australia in 2008, said he was happy to be carrying the flag for the sizeable home contingent.
“It’s positive pressure because I have everything to win and I would say nothing to lose,” Tsonga told reporters.
“If I go far in this tournament or if I win, it’s going to be something huge.”
Asked to summarise his performance, he said: “I played some ‘pie in the sky’ shots that I am not necessarily accustomed to doing, but I did. I could have produced a better copy book.”
There were mixed results for Tsonga’s compatriots.
Local wildcard Aravane Rezai offered a bold challenge to Czech seventh seed Petra Kvitova but fell short, losing 6-3 4-6 6-2 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic had too much power for Michael Llodra, winning in four sets to reach round three.
Gilles Simon, seeded 15, struggled to impose himself against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay but hit top form to win 6-7 (2) 6-1 6-1 6-1.
Fourth seed David Ferrer took his place in the third round almost unnoticed after thrashing fellow Spaniard Albert Montanes on an outside court.
Croatia’s Marin Cilic ended the hopes of Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios, leaving France’s Lucas Pouille as the only teenager still in the men’s draw.
Polish hopes of a third-round meeting between the Radwanska sisters vanished after the fourth-seeded Agnieszka beat American Mallory Burdette 6-3 6-2 but Urszula went out 6-3 6-3 to German Dinah Pfizenmaier. (Editing by Clare Fallon)