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Cilic has early exit at French

By Chris Lehourites
Associated Press / May 23, 2011

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PARIS — Marin Cilic became the first seeded player to be eliminated from the French Open this year, losing to Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo of Spain, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4, yesterday in the first round.

The 19th-seeded Cilic, who reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, is a former top-10 player. But he had 67 unforced errors in the match and was broken five times.

For Ramirez Hidalgo, it was only his fourth win in 15 Grand Slam tournaments. Besides reaching the fourth round at the 2006 French Open, the Spaniard lost in the first round in each of his other 13 appearances at the four biggest tournaments on the tennis circuit.

“It’s my greatest victory this season, that’s for sure,’’ the 33-year-old Ramirez Hidalgo said. “I would not say this is the beginning of a new career because I’m too old for this, but it’s a kind of relief.’’

Seventh-seeded David Ferrer had no such problems, advancing by defeating Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 17 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, No. 30 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, and No. 31 Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine also advanced.

“I expected, like every year, the first match not to be too easy,’’ said Wawrinka, who beat Augustin Gensse of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. “I was a bit slow. I took some time before I got into the match. In the first round it’s never so easy.’’

On the women’s side, Sam Stosur opened her bid to return to the French Open final by beating Iveta Benesova, 6-2, 6-3, in the first round.

Playing in the first match on Court Philippe Chatrier, the eighth-seeded Australian dropped her serve in the opening game, but then reeled off four straight games to take the lead for good.

Stosur reached the final at Roland Garros last year, but lost to Francesca Schiavone. In 2009, Stosur reached the French Open semifinals.

“Obviously, I thought of last year’s last match,’’ Stosur said. “It was nice to get out there again and, of course, if you can play on any court here you’d want to play on that one.’’

Stosur next plays Simona Halep of Romania, who became the first player to reach the second round by beating Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia, 6-2, 6-1, on Court 17.

“I don’t think I have to necessarily prove anything. I think having made semis and a final, I think that kind of proves that I have been able to back it up and it wasn’t a fluke the first time,’’ Stosur said. “Of course I’d love to go a little bit further this year, but I think it’s more just wanting to achieve that rather than I have to do it because of X, Y, and Z.’’

The first seeded women’s player to lose was Shahar Peer. The 19th-seeded Israeli lost to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

In the final match of the day, No. 18 Plavia Pennetta of Italy lost to American Varvara Lepchenko, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

No. 10 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, No. 13 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, No. 14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, No. 17 Julia Goerges of Germany, and No. 32 Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria all advanced.

“It’s never easy, especially in the first round,’’ said Jankovic, who beat Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine, 6-3, 6-1. “Today was a little bit windy, so the ball was swirling around. But I just played the best I could in these kind of circumstances and did my job.’’

The French Open is the only one of the four Grand Slam tournaments to start on a Sunday.

Less than an hour before play began, two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt withdrew.

The Australian, one of only five men in the draw with a Grand Slam singles title, has not played since March because of foot surgery. He was replaced by Marc Gicquel, one of nine French men playing yesterday.

Gicquel lost to Albert Montanes of Spain, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

The four remaining Grand Slam champions in the men’s draw are five-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Juan Martin del Potro.

Djokovic, Federer, and Del Potro are expected to play today, while Nadal is scheduled to play tomorrow.