Tennis-Birthday girl Swiatek launches title defence with win over 'best friend'

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PARIS (Reuters) - Birthday girl Iga Swiatek faced some stiff resistance in the second set before the Pole went on to beat best friend Kaja Juvan of Slovenia 6-0 7-5 to launch her French Open title defence on Monday.

Celebrating her 20th birthday, Swiatek got a warm hug before the start of the match from Juvan, who is her friend from junior ranks, but the Pole did not return any favours once they got on the opposite sides of the net at Court Philippe-Chatrier.

"It's never easy to play against your best friend," Swiatek told reporters. "You just try to block this friendship for two hours, just focus on the game. I think I'm doing that pretty well. It's nice to have that skill.

"So I was just trying to treat Kaja as any other girl, as any other opponent, because in sports when we are on court you can't have, like, thoughts that are going to make your game more soft."

Swiatek did not seem keen to spend too much time on court and came out all guns blazing from the start on a windy day at Roland Garros.

She dished out a bagel to Juvan, making it three consecutive sets that the Pole had not lost a game after her 6-0 6-0 win over former number one Karolina Pliskova in the final of the WTA 1000 event in Rome.

Juvan did not manage a single winner in the opening set and was more content in defending and trying to hang in against Swiatek's powerful and precise shot-making.

But with nothing to lose the 101st-ranked Juvan went on the offensive in the second set and started finding more winners than her opponent, forcing Swiatek to dig deep.

After an early trade of breaks Swiatek got the crucial break in the 12th game and converted her fourth matchpoint in the game when she forced an error off her opponent.

The friends shared another warm embrace at the net followed by a lengthy discussion and Juvan stayed back on court as Swiatek was handed a bouquet and the spectators sang 'happy birthday' for her.

"I'm feeling old at 20," Swiatek wrote on the lens of the camera before walking off the court having set a second-round meeting against Sweden's Rebecca Peterson, who ousted American Shelby Rogers with a 6-7(3) 7-6(8) 6-2 win.

Swiatek said the experience of kicking off a title defence felt a bit more stressful for her.

"I've never been in a situation like that," she said. "I'm really glad I could handle that pretty well and just play tennis, play a normal match without having in the back of my mind that I'm defending the title.

"Hopefully next matches are going to be easier from that mental side."

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; editing by Christian Radnedge)