By Shrivathsa Sridhar
PARIS (Reuters) -World number one Carlos Alcaraz issued an early warning to his rivals as the Spaniard began his quest for a second Grand Slam title by easing past Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli 6-0 6-2 7-5 in the French Open first round on Monday.
The 20-year-old has already cemented his status as a top contender on the biggest stages and is one of the favourites to take on the mantle of his compatriot and 14-times Roland Garros champion Rafa Nadal, who is absent this year with a hip issue.
“I feel the love from the people,” Alcaraz said. “I don’t know if they are Nadal fans or not, but I felt the energy from the crowd. I felt the love, and it was great to feel that.”
Alcaraz, who missed the Australian Open in January due to a leg injury, was impressive in his first Grand Slam match since his U.S. Open triumph last year and was ruthless as he raced through the opening set.
A fourth break of the contest early in the second set handed Alcaraz, who won the claycourt tournaments in Barcelona and Madrid, the advantage again before Cobolli finally got on the board in his main draw debut at the majors.
Alcaraz comfortably served out to go two sets up but the 159th-ranked Cobolli held his own and threatened to mount a late fightback as he broke to level the third set at 5-5 with some ripping forehands.
However, the top seed stepped up another gear to ensure Cobolli – who promised to get a tattoo of the Roland Garros logo after his qualifying run – would leave the tournament with an abiding image of a chastening defeat.
Up next for Alcaraz is Japan’s Taro Daniel who eased past Australian Christopher O’Connell 6-0 6-2 6-4.
“I know that Taro is having a great year,” Alcaraz said of his opponent, who stunned last year’s Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud en route to the quarter-finals in Mexico earlier this season.
“He’s playing great. He has won great matches against great players. And of course he won easy against O’Connell… I know the level of Taro, so it’s going to be a really tough second round, really tough match.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar Editing by Toby Davis)
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