By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) - Tomas Berdych's long march in search of a maiden grand slam title continued with a straightforward first-round victory at Roland Garros on Monday as the French Open moved up a gear after Sunday's opening skirmishes.
The 29-year-old Czech powerhouse, boasting a top-four seeding at a major for the first time in his career, brushed aside Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0 7-5 6-3 -- so avoiding a sixth first-round fall at the French Open.
Women's defending champion Maria Sharapova was in later action on Court Phillipe Chatrier, as was men's third seed Andy Murray, but with world number one Serena Williams, men's nine-times champion Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic all scheduled to begin on Tuesday, there was a sense of calm before the storm.
Nishioka was one of five Japanese men to start in the main draw, the most since 1967, but only highly-fancied Kei Nishikori remains two days into the claycourt grand slam.
Berdych, a member of the world's top 10 for five years but with only one grand slam final to his name, at Wimbledon in 2010 when he lost to Nadal, was far too streetwise for Nishioka and was only briefly tested in the second set.
"I'm feeling well. I'm feeling physically, mentally strong, and that's the best possible start that I can have," Berdych told reporters. "Just now be patient, keep working for the two weeks, and try to go as far as I can."
Spain's Feliciano Lopez, the men's 11th seed, became the highest casualty so far, losing 6-3 7-6(9) 6-3 to Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Fourteenth-seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska's slump also continued as the former world number two succumbed 6-2 3-6 6-1 to Germany's Annika Beck to become the highest women's seed to exit so far.
Overcast conditions greeted home favorite Alize Cornet for the start of the action and despite a sparse lunchtime crowd she treated the home fans who had taken their seats to a comeback win against Roberta Vinci.
The French number one, saddled with the pressure of trying to provide a home winner for the first time since Mary Pierce in 2000, looked on course for a fifth consecutive defeat by Vinci before recovering to win 4-6 6-4 6-1.
She was relieved to avoid the same fate as her Fed Cup team mate Caroline Garcia who lost in the first round on Sunday.
Garcia had seemed nervous about playing on Chatrier court but not so Cornet.
"I was really glad that this court was chosen for me today," the 29th seed. "The ambience on this court is amazing.
"I think that's why I could actually come back in this match, because the people were behind me. It's just a great atmosphere in this court."
Women's eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro underlined her "dark horse" tag with an impressive 6-2 6-2 win over Monica Niculescu of Romania.
(editing by Justin Palmer)