x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

First day, first show: Hewitt hopes to topple giant Karlovic

The first of three exciting Sundays at Roland Garros features two former male grand slam champions hoping to turn back the clock.

The first of three exciting Sundays at Roland Garros features two former male grand slam champions - Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin - who are hoping to turn back the clock over the next fortnight. Lleyton Hewitt, once the world No 1 with the game at his feet, enters this year's men's draw unseeded and possessing hopes of inflicting what can genuinely be described as a giant-killing performance.

The feisty Australian takes on the tallest player in the men's game, the 6ft 10 in Croatian Ivo Karlovic, in one of the featured matches on the opening day and Hewitt, back to something approaching decent form after a period of declining fortunes, is talking confidently about springing the first upset of the championships. Unfortunately for Hewitt, the rewards for chopping down the mighty Karlovic, whose big serve is a threat to the best in any conditions, are not great.

Instead of opening up his section of the draw, the winner will merely move one step closer to the likelihood of a third round exit at the hands of the four-time champion Rafael Nadal. Hewitt and Karlovic open the Court One programme today. Safin, who always attracts interest because of his unpredictability, plays the second match on Centre Court against the local hope Alexandre Sidorenko. Whenever the enigmatic Russian, winner of the US and Australian Opens during a chequered career, loses at Roland Garros it will be followed by a final wave to the Paris crowd as he steadily negotiates his retirement year on the ATP tour.

Safin has never made it beyond the semi-finals here. The highest ranked player in action on the opening day is Britain's Andy Murray. The third seed faces the awkward Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela in the last of four scheduled matches on Court Suzanne Lenglen. The defending women's champion Ana Ivanovic kicks off proceedings on Centre Court. The Serbian is not well fancied to retain her treasured title but she should not have too much trouble accounting for her first opponent - Italy's Sara Errani.

wjohnson@thenational.ae