PARIS, May 24 (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal sauntered to opening wins at the French Open on Tuesday but Andy Murray, one of their main title rivals, came perilously close to going home before joining them in the second round.
World number one Djokovic, back on Philippe Chatrier court where a year ago in the final Stan Wawrinka snatched away the missing title in his grand slam collection, outclassed first-round opponent Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun 6-4 6-1 6-1.
Nadal found Australian Sam Groth even more compliant as the Spaniard set off in search of his 10th title at Roland Garros with a 6-1 6-1 6-1 victory in little more than an hour.
Second seed Murray completed a five-set victory over 37-year-old Czech veteran Radek Stepanek, having trailed by two sets on Monday evening before bad light intervened.
Murray returned to wrap up the fourth set before surviving a nerve-jangling decider to win 3-6 3-6 6-0 6-3 7-5 -- his ninth career comeback from a two-set deficit.
“It was obviously an extremely difficult match,” three-times semi-finalist Murray, who was two points from defeat serving at 4-5 in the decider, told reporters.
“Today was pretty stressful.”
At least he lived to fight another day, unlike Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber who succumbed to a 6-2 3-6 6-3 first-round defeat by Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens.
“First rounds are always tough in the tournament, especially for me. What can I say? It happens,” third seed Kerber, who stunned Serena Williams in Melbourne to win her maiden grand slam title, told reporters.
It almost never happens to the leading men.
The last time Serbian Djokovic lost in the first round of a grand slam was in 2006 in Australia, while Nadal has only experienced it once, at Wimbledon three years ago.
There was no chance of those records being tarnished as they began their runs on day three of the elongated first round.
Nadal, bumped up to fourth seed after Roger Federer’s withdrawal, made mincemeat of Groth’s serve, one of the fastest in tennis, as he ruthlessly exposed the burly Australian.
He made only three unforced errors in the match.
“It’s obvious that was a good start for me,” Nadal, who suffered only his second career loss at Roland Garros last year when beaten by Djokovic in the quarter-finals, said.
There were mixed fortunes for two former women’s champions.
Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone, who lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in 2010, was bundled out in the first round by Kristina Mladenovic but 14th seed Ana Ivanovic, champion in 2008, beat France’s Oceane Dodin 6-0 5-7 6-2.
It was a shock-free day in the men’s draw where dangerous Austrian dark horse Dominic Thiem, seeded 13, American John Isner (15) and Tomas Berdych (7) moved through. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)