No. 29 and counting |

No. 29 and counting

Defending champion Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Brazil's Marcos Daniel during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament. at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday May 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS ” The King of Clay eclipsed another mark Monday, this time breaking the French Open men’s record for consecutive wins.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal looked his usual dominant self in the first round, beating Marcos Daniel of Brazil 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 for his 29th straight win on the red clay at Roland Garros.

“At the beginning, I didn’t quite get the best feelings, but I won in three sets. That’s very positive,” Nadal said. “I should have won more easily … but it was a difficult match.”

Roger Federer, the man Nadal beat in the last three French Open finals, had an easier time in his opening match, defeating Alberto Martin of Spain 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Dinara Safina, the top-seeded player in the women’s draw, advanced with No. 3 Venus Williams and unseeded Maria Sharapova.

Nadal’s win bettered the French Open record held by Bjorn Borg, who won 28 straight from 1978-81. Nadal also equaled the overall tournament record, matching the 29 straight that Chris Evert won between 1974-75 and 1979-81. Evert did not play at the French Open from 1976-78.

Nadal was broken three times by Daniel, but the top-seeded Spaniard remained perfect on the French Open’s red clay as he tries to become the first player to win five straight titles at Roland Garros.

“His backhand is better than his forehand, but I think I made it a bit easy for him,” Nadal said. “That’s my opinion.”

Federer has won 13 major titles, but he still needs to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam.

Against Martin, who missed the last two French Open tournaments because of injury and then by failing to qualify, Federer appeared to play effortlessly.

“Once I got the upper hand, things were pretty much in control,” Federer said. “I served well when I had to, and mixed it up. That’s how I want to play. I’m happy to be through without a fright.”

Also advancing on the men’s side were sixth-seeded Andy Roddick of the United States, No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, No. 17 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 23 Robin Soderling of Sweden, No. 24 Jurgen Melzer of Austria, No. 28 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, No. 30 Victor Hanescu of Romania and No. 32 Paul-Henri Mathieu of France. No. 19 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic lost to Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3.

Roddick beat French wild-card entry Romain Jouan 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to win a match at the French Open for the first time since 2005.

Safina routed Anne Keothavong of Britain 6-0, 6-0, spraying shots to all parts of the court.

“I was just playing point by point, game by game, and it ended up like this,” said Safina, who with Marat Safin forms the only brother-sister combination to have held the No. 1 ranking.

Keothavong had a couple of chances against Safina, but she wasted two break points in the third game of the first set, and led 40-0 in the fourth game of the second but couldn’t hold on.

“When that’s happening to you all you want to do is get on the scoreboard, but I wasn’t able to do that,” said Keothavong, who saved four match points before Safina hit a forehand winner down the line. “It just kept getting harder and harder.”

Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic won 6-0, 6-0 at the French Open last year, and Serena Williams did it in 2003.

Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, survived a sudden second-set slump to beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. She won the match’s first five games, while Mattek-Sands asked for a medical timeout during the first set so a trainer could look at her right wrist.

“I’m definitely a third-set player,” Williams said. “Once I get to the third set … I feel a new level coming.”

Williams has never won the French Open, but she did reach the final in 2002 when she lost to little sister Serena. Overall, Williams holds a 36-12 record at Roland Garros, giving her the most wins of any player in the women’s draw at the tournament.

Sharapova played with a bandage on her right shoulder, and she struggled in the first set before beating Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

The unseeded Russian was broken three times in the first set, but she opened the second with four straight wins before being broken once again. Before the start of the next game, Yakimova called for a trainer to work on her lower back.

“I started pretty lousy,” said Sharapova, playing a Grand Slam match for the first time since last year’s Wimbledon. “I was just a little sloppy. But I totally changed it around, and I started playing a lot better and more aggressive.”

No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, No. 13 Marion Bartoli of France, No. 15 Zheng Jie of China, No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, No. 22 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain and No. 29 Agnes Szavay of Hungary also advanced to the second round.

In upsets, No. 23 Alisa Kleybanova of Russia lost to Polona Hercog of Slovenia 6-2, 4-6, 6-1; No. 14 Flavia Pennetta of Italy was eliminated by Alexa Glatch of the United States 6-1, 6-1; No. 26 Anna Chakvetadze of Russia lost to Mariana Duque Marino of Colombia 3-6, 6-4, 6-4; and No. 17 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland fell to Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-3.

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