Like Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka is a past French Open champion still working his way back into form after surgery.
Like Djokovic, Wawrinka is ranked lower than he has been in more than a decade. And like Djokovic, Wawrinka recently reunited with a coach who helped guide him to success earlier in his career.
Both men were in first-round action at Roland Garros on Monday, but unlike Djokovic, who won in straight sets, Wawrinka could not summon and sustain the sort of high-level play that has carried him to major titles in Paris and elsewhere. Returning to a place where he won the title in 2015 and made it back to the final a year ago, Wawrinka bowed out with a 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to 67th-ranked Guillermo García-López of Spain.
“I won three Grand Slams in my career, and I know what it takes to do it,” said Wawrinka, who was seeded 23rd and is ranked only 30th, territory unfamiliar to him since April 2008. “And my goal is to get to my top. Sooner or later, I will.”
Wawrinka only recently returned to the tour after missing three months to rest his left knee, which was operated on twice last August. He has played 11 matches in 2018, going 4-7.
As Monday’s match stretched to three and a half hours, Wawrinka was hindered by the physical strain of playing in a fifth set for the first time since his French Open semifinal victory over Andy Murray a year ago. But that wasn’t the biggest impediment to success.
“It was more the difficulty of continuing to go for it mentally,” he explained.
The owner of one of the prettiest one-handed backhands in the sport, Wawrinka — who is again working with coach Magnus Norman — managed only 12 winners, compared with 35 unforced errors, with that shot. He finished with 72 unforced errors in all, 32 more than García-López, who never has been past the fourth round at a major tournament.
“There is no frustration; it’s just tough,” said Wawrinka, 33, who has been as high as No. 3 in the rankings. “But I’m on the right way. It was very close today.”
Djokovic — a former No. 1 now ranked 22nd, his worst spot since 2006 — beat the 134th-ranked qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, quickly recovering after dropping the opening two games.
Beginning his bid for a record-extending 11th French Open title, he never seemed to be at his absolute best against 129th-ranked Simone Bolelli of Italy, and while Nadal grabbed the first two sets, 6-4, 6-3, he was trailing by 3-0 in the third when action was halted. They will resume Tuesday, when the most anticipated match of the tournament is scheduled for the main stadium: 23-time major champion Serena Williams, in her first Grand Slam match since January 2017, against 70th-ranked Kristyna Plyskova of the Czech Republic.
In other matches Tuesday, Caroline Wozniacki, the reigning Australian Open champion, reached the second round after a 7-6 (2), 6-1 win over Danielle Collins, a Roland Garros debutante came to prominence in March when she reached the semifinals at Miami as a qualifier.
The second-seeded Wozniacki said having won a Grand Slam title helped her take a “much more relaxed approach” to her match.
The two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is also through to the French Open second round after defeating Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5, in 2 hours 7 minutes.
Kvitova’s best run in Paris was to the semifinals in 2012. She bowed out in the second round last year, making her Grand Slam return after an assailant attacked her with her home in December 2016, requiring extensive surgery to her left hand, her playing hand.