PARIS: Fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov reached the French Open second round on Sunday, even if he wasn’t exactly sure who he was facing, while Venus Williams was defeated and Australian firebrand Nick Kyrgios limped out.
Dimitrov had been drawn to face experienced Viktor Troicki in the tournament opener on Philippe Chatrier Court.
However, just before he was due to go on court, Troicki withdrew with a back injury, allowing Egyptian world number 182 Mohamed Safwat to make his Grand Slam debut.
In the process, he became the first Egyptian since Tamer El Sawy at the 1996 US Open to feature in a major.
“I was warming up and my coach said, ‘hey look’ and we saw up on the board that I was playing a different opponent,” said 27-year-old Dimitrov, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, after his 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1) win.
“I didn’t expect that.”
Safwat, 27, had lost in the final round of qualifying in what was his eighth futile attempt to make the main draw of the majors.
But Safwat, one of eight lucky losers in the men’s draw, then overcame blisters on his right hand to put up a solid challenge in the third set before Dimitrov raced through the tiebreaker.
“I only heard I was playing an hour before the match,” said Safwat.
“I dealt with it as best I could. I had never set foot on that court before.”
Seven-time major winner Venus Williams suffered back-to-back opening round exits at the Slams for the first time in her 21-year career.
The ninth-seeded, 37-year-old American slumped to a 6-4, 7-5 defeat to China’s world 91 Wang Qiang, a player she knocked out in Paris last year.
Williams, playing Roland Garros for the 21st time, was in no mood for lengthy explanations after her loss.
“Nobody plans for this,” she said.
Kyrgios was forced to withdraw after failing to recover from an elbow injury, saying a potential five sets on clay was “too risky”.
The 23-year-old was seeded 21 and was due to play compatriot Bernard Tomic in the first round.
The enigmatic Kyrgios has not played a singles match since a quarter-final loss to Ivo Karlovic at the US Clay Court Championships in April.
“Having consulted with my team and medical experts it is deemed too risky for me to step out and potentially play five sets on clay, especially as I have not played a singles match in nearly two months,” Kyrgios wrote on Twitter.
Kyrgios’s withdrawal meant that eight places in the first round were opened up to lucky losers.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal, who starts his campaign for an 11th Roland Garros title on Monday, will also face a lucky loser.
Italy’s world 130 Simone Bolelli moved into the draw after Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov pulled out with a wrist injury.
Women’s fourth seed Elina Svitolina, a quarter-finalist in Paris in 2015 and 2017, overcame a first set 1-5 deficit to see off Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-3.
“To be ready for a Grand Slam is always the goal, the main goal for me,” said the 23-year-old Ukrainian, also a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open this year.
“I try to do everything what’s in my power to play my best game on the Grand Slams.”
Svitolina next faces Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova who put out 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, the 37-year-old Italian who made it through qualifying, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2).
Other early winners on Sunday included Estonian 25th seed Anett Kontaveit who downed Madison Brengle of the United States 6-1, 4-6, 6-2.
Kontaveit defeated Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki on her way to the semi-finals in Rome last week.
She was also a semi-finalist on clay in Stuttgart while also beating Venus Williams in Madrid.
US Open champion Sloane Stephens, the 10th seed, needed just 49 minutes to breeze past Arantxa Rus 6-2, 6-0.
Later Sunday, German second seed Alexander Zverev starts against Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania.