PARIS — Maria Sharapova was unfazed by the boos she heard when leaving the center court of Roland Garros on Monday without treating the crowd to a post-match interview. After all, she had good reasons to rush to the locker room.
Battling a cold that had her coughing at times during the match, the defending champion was not in the mood for small talk after beating Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 in the first round, having been made to work harder than the scoreline suggested.
"Of course I totally understand, everyone usually does post-interviews and answers a few questions to the crowd," said Sharapova. "It's absolutely normal. I'm not making any excuses, but I've got to do what I have to do."
The second-seeded Sharapova, who completed a career Grand Slam in Paris when she first won the title in 2012, is trying to become the first woman to successfully defend her crown at the clay-court tournament since Justine Henin in 2007.
She also entered last year's French Open nursing an illness.
"I got sick a week before the tournament, not right before," she said. "So I guess it's a little bit better timing. But it's just the way it is. I'm getting over it, and hopefully it will pass by soon."
Sporting an elegant striped long-sleeved shirt, Sharapova made 21 unforced errors and dropped her serve once in each set as Kanepi responded to her forehand attacks with powerful groundstrokes. The gritty Estonian saved a match point in the final game, before a double-fault gave Sharapova the win.
"I had a tough opponent ahead of me," Sharapova said. "Overall I'm just happy I got through and have a day off tomorrow, and I should be better by then."
Venus Williams will have all week off after exiting the tournament in the first round for the second time in three years.
Venus, who was beaten by younger sister Serena in the 2002 final, lost 7-6 (5), 6-1 to 40th-ranked Sloane Stephens, a 22-year-old up-and-coming American player.
In men's play, Tomas Berdych began his quest for a first Grand Slam title with an easy 6-0, 7-5, 6-3 win over Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka and third-seeded Andy Murray eased past lucky loser Facundo Arguello 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.
In an era dominated by Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Murray, winning a major might sometimes look beyond reach. But the big-hitting Czech is not giving up hope.
"Everything has been aimed for this tournament," the fourth-seeded Berdych said. "I'm feeling well. I'm feeling physically, mentally strong, and that's the best possible start that I can have."
A runner-up at Wimbledon in 2010, Berdych also made it to the semifinals at the French Open that year. The Czech is playing at Roland Garros for the 12th consecutive time and has reasons to believe he can match his best result in the French capital.
After hiring Andy Murray's former coach Dani Vallverdu, Berdych has been in consistent form this year, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open and finishing runner-up in Doha, Rotterdam and, more recently, at the Monte Carlo Masters. But he wants more.
"Being closer or not closer in the end doesn't really matter," Berdych said. "Just the winners are counting, and that's how it is."
Berdych has been a permanent member of the Top 10 over the past five years. He has however failed to achieve what Stan Wawrinka did at the Australian Open last year, when he became the first man from outside the Big Four to win a major since 2009, before Marin Cilic won the US Open.
"There is the fact that there are other guys who have Grand Slam titles and I don't have," he said. "The only thing I can do about it is try to change that, just try to take my chances."
On a cool and breezy day, the hot-tempered Fabio Fognini kept his cool as the 28th-seeded Italian dispatched another Japanese player, Tatsuma Ito, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. No. 11 Feliciano Lopez of Spain became the highest seeded man to tumble so far, losing 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3 to 74th-ranked Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia.
Radek Stepanek, the oldest man in the draw at 36, progressed with a four-set win over Ivan Dodig while the youngest man to compete bowed out in straight sets. Making his debut at a Grand Slam tournament, 17-year-old Frances Tiafoe lost 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 to 36th-ranked Martin Klizan of Slovakia.
Also, former world No. 2 number and 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska lost in the first round for the first time since her 2007 debut at the clay-court Grand Slam, bowing out 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 against Annika Beck.
"Maybe I'm getting older," said the 26-year-old. "I just want to forget about that and focus on grass."