BARCELONA, April 22 – Third seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made a comfortable winning career debut at the Barcelona Open on Wednesday as the event paused to pay tribute to former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.Frenchman Tsonga began putting his clay season back together after losing in the third round last week in Monte Carlo, posting a 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Czech Jan Hajek in the second round at the Real Club de Tenis.
But the luck ran out early for Richard Gasquet as the fragile Frenchman fell victim to Monte Carlo finalist Fernando Verdasco, with the Spanish fifth seed winning 7-5, 6-3.
That victory after his trouncing at the hands of Rafael Nadal last weekend in the principality, restored some confidence to the game of Verdasco, who edged to 5-4 in the series.
There was an upset as Spanish qualifier took out Chile fourth seed Fernando Gonzalez 6-4, 6-7 (8-10), 6-3
The tournament honoured the memory of Catalan Samaranch, a frequent VIP visitor to the city’s premier tennis event who died Wednesday at the age of 89 in a Barcelona hospital.
Crowds observed a minute’s silence prior to the start of the afternoon second-round match between Spaniards Marcelo Granollers and David Ferrer.
Ferrer then took the first step towards trying to finally win the title after runner-up finishes to Rafael Nadal at the last two editions, with the eighth seed beating Granollers 7-5, 6-4 to reach the third round.
Tsonga required just 65 minutes to lift his clay campaign with the start of Roland Garros little more than a month away.
The Frenchman saved both of the break points he faced against the 86th-ranked Hajek, who won a round on clay this month in Casablanca.
"It was a good first round for me, to win in straight sets," said Tsonga. "I felt relaxed out there, had a high percentage of first serves, and it’s a great way to start the tournament.
"I know my next match against (Spanish 15th seed Nicolas) Almagro will be a lot more difficult. He’s going to have the crowd behind him – but I’m ready to take on the challenge."
Austrian 11th seed Jurgen Melzer staged a comeback to get past Spaniard Oscar Hernandez 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 7-5 and next plays Verdasco.
Australian Lleyton Hewitt continued to have his problems with the surface, losing to Eduardo Schwank 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 to make an early exit in his first appearance at the tournament in eight years.
In 2002 at the height of his tennis powers as world number one and three months away from winning Wimbledon, Hewitt got as far as the semi-finals.
But after squeezing through a tight first-round match on Tuesday over modest 123rd-ranked Turkish qualifier Marsel Ilhan, the 29-year-old Australian was unable to bounce back against the last Argentine remaining in contention.
Hewitt has been making a return from January hip surgery – his second hip operation – and will now hope to lift his clay game in Rome next week.
Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis put out Jeremy Chardy of France 6-3, 6-2 while Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker reached the third round over Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.