PARIS, May 24 – Maria Sharapova eased into the Roland Garros second round on Tuesday, but the Russian took second billing to grieving Virginie Razzano, who honoured her fiance's dying wish to play the French Open.
Sharapova had little trouble disposing of Croatian veteran Mirjana Lucic 6-3, 6-0, as the former world number one began her campaign to clinch a first French Open title.
It took the seventh-seeded Russian just 56 minutes to seal victory as her 29-year-old opponent, playing the tournament for the first time in eight years, was overwhelmed, winning just four points in the second set.
However, Sharapova, the sport’s biggest draw card, was not headline news.
She had been preceded on Court Philippe Chatrier by French 28-year-old Razzano, playing in honour of her fiance and coach Stephane Vidal, who died from a brain tumour eight days ago.
"I am very emotional, I was here for Stephane," said Razzano, who was defeated 6-3, 6-1 by Australian 24th seed Jarmila Gajdosova, whose own life has been in turmoil following the collapse of her marriage.
"It was really hard to come on the court, there was a lot of emotion and a lot of pain. That pain will always be there. I tried to make a tribute to Stephane. It was mission impossible but I gave my all."
Razzano was wearing a black ribbon on her shirt as a mark of respect for Vidal, a gesture which has been adopted by all the French players in the women’s draw in Paris.
Slovakian-born Gajdosova had married Australian tour player Sam Groth in February 2009.
But since their split was announced three weeks ago, the 24-year-old has reverted to her maiden name.
"It’s only been three weeks, people talk and have their own opinions and reactions," said Gajdosova, as she reflected on her marriage break-up.
"I am human after all and I can only try to cope as best I can. I have good people around me and they have helped. Time will heal and I’ll move forward."
Gajdosova embraced Razzano at the net after the match.
"I told her I was sorry for her loss and that she was incredible to come on court. I told her to hold her head high and wished her the best for the future," said the Australian.
"It’s difficult to play someone who is hurting."
Gajdosova next meets Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues for a place in the last 32, while Sharapova, whose best performace in Paris was a run to the semi-finals in 2007, next tackles French wild card Caroline Garcia.
Even Lucic arrived at Roland Garros with a history of family strife.
As a 15-year-old, she was Australian Open doubles champion with Martina Hingis in 1998 before making the Wimbledon singles semi-finals a year later.
After an ugly separation from her father, Lucic did not play on the tour from 2004 to 2006, but her run to the Strasbourg quarter-finals last week was her best performance in 12 years.
Later on Tuesday, second seed Kim Clijsters, playing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2006, begins her campaign to win a first French Open with a match against Anastasia Yakimova, the world number 100 from Belarus.
Clijsters, the reigning US and Australian Open champion, has been runner-up twice, in 2001 and 2003.
Fourth seed Victoria Azarenka, a quarter-finalist in 2009, faces Andrea Hlavackova, the Czech world number 97.
Azarenka is at a career-high four in the world after a 2011 that has seen her capture titles in Miami and Marbella and finish runner-up in Madrid.
Chinese sixth seed Li Na, who reached the Australian Open final this year, struggled past Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 and she will next face Spain’s Silvia Soler Espinosa, who defeated Russia’s Elena Vesnina.