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Maria, Novak shine on rain-marred day

- Sania-Cara seeded fifth, to face Hantuchova-Peer
Dominika Cibulkova after her win, on Monday

Paris: Second seed Novak Djokovic played the funny man as he slipped and slithered to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Portugal’s Joao Sousa on the rain-interrupted second day of the French Open, on Monday.

The start of play was delayed for about one hour, and Maria Sharapova managed to finish off fellow Russian Ksenia Pervak for the loss of only three games before rain returned to stop play for another hour.

Djokovic was leading 4-1 at the time and, on the resumption, broke Sousa to love. He then recovered from 0-40 on his own serve to wrap up the first set with two crushing first serves.

Rain began to fall again with the Serb, who is strongly fancied to end Rafael Nadal’s hold on the title, preparing to serve for the set at 5-2. Djokovic sat, looking slightly ridiculous, in a white hooded waterproof jacket as the umpire decided whether to take the players off court.

Djokovic made a series of faces at the camera before inviting a ball boy to share his seat, and a soft drink. They chatted about his racquet and life in general under a large umbrella to the amusement of the sheltering crowd. When play resumed after five minutes, they shook hands politely before resuming their previous roles.

Sharapova, the seventh seed and 2012 champion, blew kisses to the crowd after she won 6-1, 6-2.

The warm-up on Philippe Chatrier featured seventh seed Sharapova in fetching pink and Pervak in what looked like army camouflage trousers and jacket. Once the match began, her fighting spirit proved insufficient to trouble Sharapova.

Winner of the Stuttgart and Madrid claycourt titles, Sharapova went on the attack early, moving her left-handed compatriot around the court to break at the first opportunity.

But a wild volley at the net, with the whole court open, allowed Pervak to break back before the four-times Grand Slam champion finally emerged with a 4-1 lead and took the set in 27 minutes.

Sharapova broke early in the second set and while Pervak kept defeat at bay in her final service game, she handed Sharapova victory when she hit a return of serve too long.

Sharapova showed she had fully recovered from her thrashing by Ana Ivanovic in the third round in Rome, winning 92 per cent of points on first serve.

Ninth seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia beat France’s Virginie Razzano 7-5, 6-0. There were also wins for seeds Sabine Lisicki, last year’s Wimbledon runner up Flavia Pennetta, and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada.

Djokovic beat Nadal, eight times the champion at Roland Garros, in the Rome final this month, and looked in ominously good form. Top seed Nadal, on his part, breezed past Robby Ginepri of the US 6-0, 6-3, 6-0.

Djokivic broke Sousa in his opening service game as the players’ first serves kicked up sprays of wet clay, but the Portuguese continued to go for his shots, particularly as the match slipped away from him.

Djokovic was too strong, although after leading 4-1 in the final set, he dropped his serve twice on the run-in, the first time after a double fault that was not even close. He won the match with an ace on his second match point.

Japanese ninth seed Kei Nishikori, coached by 1989 Roland Garros champion Michael Chang, crumbled to a 6-7 (4-7), 1-6, 2-6 defeat by Slovakia’s Martin Klizan after serving for the first set at 5-3.

The injury-prone Japanese said he had not been able to practise enough after retiring injured from the Madrid Open final, and he feared this would be his future. “It’s tough for me, but I guess this is my tennis life. I have to take care of my body and injury will come again, for sure,” Nishikori said.

Miloslav Mecir, the son of the 1988 Olympic gold medallist of the same name, was knocked out by Tobias Kamke of Germany 5-7, 6-7 (2-7), 6-7 (1-7) in his first match in a Grand Slam, after coming through the qualifiers. Several matches were postponed because of the delay caused by the rain.

Sania Mirza and Cara Black, seeded fifth, were on Monday pitted against the very competitive team of Daniela Hantuchova and Shahar Peer in their opening round of the women’s doubles event.

Sania has never won a Major trophy in women’s doubles and her best performance has been with Russian partner Elena Vesnina at this very tournament, when they ended runners-up in 2011.

Sania also won her second mixed doubles Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2012 with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi. In the run-up to the French Open, Sania and Cara ended runners-up twice and made the quarter-finals at two other clay court tournaments.

In men’s doubles, Rohan Bopanna and his Pakistani partner Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi have been seeded sixth and they open their campaign against big-serving Ivo Karlovic and Stephane Robert.