By Isaac Farnworth
PARIS, FRANCE – Roger Federer‘s much anticipated return heralds opening day at Roland Garros 2019, along with Venus Williams, Elina Svitolina and Marco Cecchinato.
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Venus Williams vs Elina Svitolina  | H2H 1-1
Roland Garros 2019 sees the official opening of the brand-new Court Simonne-Mathieu and on paper, the draw has produced one of the most intriguing first-round ties possible to celebrate the arena’s inauguration.
The 123rd edition of the French Open sees 38-year-old Venus Williams, who claimed her first of two titles in Paris 20 years ago, take on Ukrainian and ninth seed Elina Svitolina who is yet to progress beyond a quarter-final at a slam, which is a difficult statistic to explain when you consider the 24-year-old is the defending WTA Finals champion, and has Italian and Canadian Open titles also to her name.
The pair have only met twice, and once on the dirt, with the American prevailing in straight sets in Rome four years ago. However, four years is a long time in any sport and Svitolina is a different player entirely heading into Sunday’s encounter. She brushed Williams aside for the loss of just three games in their more recent meeting on the Ukrainian’s route to the Canadian Open title in 2017.
In terms of the form guide, Svitolina comes in cold with four straight defeats and just two clay-court matches under her belt. Williams has fared slightly better, picking up a confidence-boosting three set win over Belgian Elise Mertens in Rome, an impressive win against the 20th seed here in Paris before losing heavily to eventual runner-up Johanna Konta in the last 16.
Prediction: Svitolina in straight sets
Lorenzo Sonego vs Roger Federer  | H2H: 0-0
Swiss great Roger Federer makes his eagerly-anticipated return to Roland Garros after a four-year hiatus, and goes in search of a second Roland Garros title on the 10th anniversary of his only triumph in Paris on the dirt in 2009.
A quarter-final appearance in Madrid where the 37-year-old took clay-court specialist Dominic Thiem to 6-4 in the third in a two hour 12 minute encounter in the Spanish capital, followed by more wins in Rome against Joao Sousa and a narrow 7-6 in the third victory over tenacious Croatian Borna Coric must give Federer some hope heading into his first-round face-off with Italian and world number 73 Lorenzo Sonego.
The two have yet to meet in a competitive situation, but Sonego will be quietly confident of an upset on Chatrier on Sunday having come through qualifying to reach the quarters both Marrakech and the Monte Carlo Masters on the red stuff. That said, playing the most successful man in tennis history on one of the most historical arenas in world sport is the other challenge that the Italian faces, before a ball is struck in anger.
Prediction: Federer in four sets
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Marco Cecchinato  vs Nicolas Mahut | H2H: 2-0
Marco Cecchinato was one of the best stories of the tournament last year when he plotted an unlikely route to the last four having never registered a single win at a Grand Slam previously. The young Italian left David Goffin, Pablo Carreno Busta and 15-time major winner Novak Djokovic by the wayside as he marauded through before falling in the semis to Thiem in straight sets.
Sadly, for Cecchinato, he has been unable to build on his incredible result in the French capital of last year, and has lost in the first round at the last three slams to arrive in Paris undercooked other than a quarter-final showing in Munich and a three-set win over two-time Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka in Monte Carlo.
Nicolas Mahut, currently down at 253 in the world rankings, has only contested 12 matches this year, and is yet to register a clay-court win in 2019 with defeats in Challengers to fellow Frenchman Maxime Janvier and Serbian Viktor Troicki the 37-year-old’s only showings on the terre battue.
However, backed by the partisan Parisienne crowd, Mahut won’t be too worried about his lack of match practice heading into this one, and with a 2-0 record in his favour against the Italian, this one could be classic.
Prediction: Mahut in five sets
Play starts on Sunday at 11am (10am BST).
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