(Changes number of cancelled matches para 5)
By Martyn Herman
PARIS, May 28 (Reuters) - After fickle Parisian weather and the exploits of a French heroine kept Novak Djokovic waiting to make his bow at Roland Garros on Tuesday, the world number one began his quest to complete his grand slam collection in style with victory over David Goffin.
Home favourite Marian Bartoli saved two match points in a rain-interrupted three-hour triumph against Olga Govortsova, rewarding the patience of the fans who sat huddled under grey November-like skies for much of the day.
Bartoli’s 7-6 (8) 4-6 7-5 victory meant it was touch and go whether Djokovic’s tricky first-round match against Goffin would be completed but, once he got into his stride, the top-seeded Serb chiselled a 7-6 (5) 6-4 7-5 win.
Play did not start at the allotted 1100 local time and, even when the green covers were hauled off the damp red clay back at lunchtime, only 90 minutes were possible before another rain delay sent fans and players scuttling for shelter.
Eleven singles matches were cancelled and three failed to finish meaning the first round will now span four days, once again raising questions about the tournament’s decision to play only a partial schedule on the opening Sunday.
“At the moment it’s not under consideration, it’s not something that’s been talked about,” a tournament spokesman said.
Despite the elements there was still plenty of time for several fancied players to move through to the second round.
In the men’s draw there were wins for ninth seed Stanislas Wawrinka over Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker, Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber over Czech teenager Jiri Vesely and 12th seed Tommy Haas, who at 35 continues to prove that class is permnament with an easy win against Guillaume Rufin.
The rain could not save the tournament’s veterans, though, with 42-year-old Japanese Kimiko Date-Krumm succumbing to Australian ninth seed Samanatha Stosur and 36-year-old French wildcard Marc Gicquel crushed by Spain’s Fernando Verdasco.
Mystery surrounded the whereabouts of Bernard Tomic’s father John after suggestions that he would try and watch his son’s match despite being barred by the sport’s governing bodies because of an alleged assault on his son’s practice partner.
The 20-year-old Tomic was forced to retire injured when trailing by two sets against Victor Hanescu and later confirmed that his father was indeed in Paris, but not in the grounds.
Djokovic, who reached his first final at Roland Garros last year but lost to Rafa Nadal, was handed a tough first assignment against Goffin who stretched Roger Federer here last year.
The 26-year-old was kept on his toes throughout an entertaining contest, but squeezed the throttle at all the key moments to avoid any late-evening dramas.
Goffin paid dearly for a double-fault at 5-5 in the opening set tiebreak and was then broken at 4-4 in the second set having just hauled himself back into contention.
Djokovic had to save a break point midway through the third set but, wary of the fast-fading light, he closed things out to set up a second round against Argentine Guido Pella.
It was just a day for getting the job done said Djokovic who showed no sign of the ankle injury that dogged him of late.
”It was a long day,“ he told reporters. ”I think I warmed up five or six times today and finally got to the court.
“Heavy balls, bad bounces, it’s quite cold. So you need to step into the court and try to hit the ball. I needed to and played my best tennis when it was most important today.”
Had Goffin taken a set, Djokovic would have had to come back on Wednesday, severely impacting his hopes of run to the title, and he said it was time floodlights were installed at Roland Garros, even if a roof is planned for 2018.
“At least we could have lights so the play can go for a few more hours,” he said. “I believe that’s not something that is big comparing to the project of the roof.”
Before Djokovic joined the party, Bartoli, the French number one, put herself and her fans through the wringer.
The unorthodox 28-year-old, known for her eccentric on-court mannerisms including the tennis equivalent of shadow-boxing and swishing at invisible balls to practise her swings, was set and a break ahead before rain halted her progress.
On the resumption Bealrussian Govortsova, who would give Maria Sharapova a run for her money on the grunting meter, played inspired tennis and served for the match at 5-3 in the decider, only to squander two match points.
Bartoli, roared on by the crowd, battled back to break serve for a 6-5 lead but then tamely double-faulted on her first match point in a game that went on for more than 10 minutes.
Three more match points went begging before former Wimbledon runner-up Bartoli finally claimed victory.
“I managed to ramp up a gear and to show that I wasn’t tired at all, that’s very encouraging for the rest of the season,” Bartoli said. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John Mehaffey)