(Paris) Almost everyone expects to see – and hopes to see, probably – Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic cross swords in the semi-final of the men’s singles of the French Open tennis tournament. There is still work to be done, of course, and both players began their respective journeys at Roland Garros on Monday with three-set victories against opponents who were playing their first ever Grand Slam match.

For these two players perceived by many as the main favorites of the competition, these matches were supposed to be unproblematic opportunities to enter the tournament on clay. And that’s what happened, except for a brief and late slump for each of them.

Djokovic, a 22-time Grand Slam men’s singles winner and third seed, was the first to perform, at the Philippe-Chatrier stadium, against Aleksandar Kovacevic, a 24-year-old American ranked 114th.

Djokovic was on serve with a two-set lead at zero and 5-4 in the third set, but was broken. Predictably, he quickly turned things around and made it to the next round with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(1) win.

“(He) made me work for my win,” admitted Djokovic.

“I played really well and maintained control of the situation for two and a half sets, then I lost my serve and things started going in the wrong direction for me. But I managed to keep my cool and played an almost perfect tiebreaker,” added the 36-year-old Serb.

Then, Alcaraz, first seed and holder of a Grand Slam title in his career, walked the clay court Suzanne-Lenglen to face Flavio Cobolli, a 21-year-old Italian ranked 159th and coming from the qualifications.

Alcaraz were left with three match points as they led 5-3 in the third set, but the Spaniard failed to convert them. A few minutes later, the score was 5-5. Unsurprisingly, he corrected the situation and he finally eliminated Cobolli 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

Prior to the start of the tournament, Djokovic identified Alcaraz as the “logical favourite” to lift the commemorative champion trophy, given his recent displays on clay: as of Monday, Alcaraz was 21-2 with three securities.

Hard to argue.

On the other hand, Djokovic also remarked that he loves best-of-five-set matches, and perhaps a little intentionally, he talked about the 22-1 gap in such tournaments.

The list of other men’s winners on Monday includes Jannik Sinner (8th seed), Frances Tiafoe (12th), Cam Norrie (14th), Borna Coric (15th), Alex de Minaur (18th) and Roberto Bautista Agut ( 19th).

Back on her “favorite court in the world”, American Sloane Stephens appeared in full possession in her first match of the tournament on Monday, defeating Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-4.

Although she notched her only Grand Slam triumph at the 2017 US Open, Stephens also had some good times on clay at Roland-Garros with a final appearance against Simona Halep in 2018 and two qualifications to the quarter-finals, the most recent of which was last year.

“It’s my favorite court in the world, and I’m really happy to be back,” Stephens told the spectators gathered in the stands of the Philippe-Chatrier stadium.

“It’s always amazing to start a Grand Slam tournament on your favorite court, on your favorite surface. »

Stephens was trailing by a service break in the second set against Pliskova, but she came from behind winning three straight games.

Her performance contributed to a flawless start to the day for the players from the United States on Monday.

Madison Keys, who lost in the final to Stephens at Flushing Meadows six years ago, defeated Kaia Kanepi 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

In the next round, Keys will battle her compatriot Kayla Day, a player from the qualifications, who defeated French Kristina Mladenovic, a guest of the organizers, 7-5, 6-1.

Also, Bernarda Pera, an American who was born in Croatia, took the measure of Anett Kontaveit, former world number two, 7-6 (6), 6-2.

In addition, the women’s singles draw lost three of its top-ranked players.

First, the Suzanne-Lenglen Stadium was the site of a big surprise when Elina Avanesyan, a 20-year-old Russian, eliminated Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, 12th in the world, in three sets of 6-3, 2 -6, 6-4.

Ranked 134th in the world, Avanesyan was admitted to the main draw as the “fortunate loser” following the withdrawal of Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig.

Avanesyan took advantage of the erratic play of Bencic, who committed seven double faults – without registering a single ace – as well as 49 unforced errors for 19 winners.

Later in the day, 11th-seeded Veronika Kuderrmetova of Russia lost in straight sets 6-3, 6-1 to Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, then 10th-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova seen showing the way out, also in straight sets of 6-3, 6-4 by Italy’s Elisabetta Cocciaretto.