James Ward was unable to extend his winning run at the French Open despite a hugely creditable performance yesterday against 17th seed Tommy Robredo.
The Londoner took the first set in pouring rain on Court 6 but Robredo hit back to win 4-6 6-4 6-2 6-4.
Ward became the first British man to qualify at Roland Garros for 41 years when he beat Blaz Rola in the final qualifying round on Friday but the draw was not kind.
Spaniard Robredo, a former top-10 player, is a man of significant clay-court pedigree and a quarter-finalist here last year, which showed when he came back from two sets down to win three successive sets.
Although he has not been in great form this season, his movement and remarkable defensive skills are tailor-made for clay.
Ward, 27, who spent part of his junior days training in Spain, is also happy on the dirt and has pulled off some impressive wins, not least beating American Sam Querrey in Davis Cup in February. It was Robredo who made the better start in steady drizzle, breaking the Ward serve in the third game, but back came the British number three to level at 3-3. He then saved a break point to hold for 5-4, his serve getting him out of trouble, and piled the pressure on Robredo as the rain became ever heavier.
Soon it was teeming down but on they went. Robredo saved three set points but not a fourth, Ward taking it with a forehand winner and a pump of the fist.
The quality and conviction of his play was hugely impressive but a break for rain did not seem to help him as on the resumption a series of loose points saw him drop his serve to start the second set. He continued to put pressure on Robredo and took his chance in the eighth game to level at 4-4 when the Spaniard missed a backhand only to drop his serve again straight away.
In rain reminiscent of the end of the opener, Robredo served out the set, and the pair stayed in their chairs while the worst of the weather passed.
Ward did not seem happy about starting again and, like in the second set, he dropped his serve straight away.
When Robredo held from 0-40 in the next game, Ward began to look a little weary, and the third set quickly slipped away.
He renewed his efforts at the start of the fourth but must have felt like he was playing a wall as Robredo retrieved everything.
The Spaniard broke Ward’s serve for the sixth time in the match to move 3-2 ahead and clinched victory after two hours and 53 minutes.
It was not without some final heroics from Ward, though, who saved two match points in fine style on his own serve.
Novak Djokovic meanwhile kicked off his bid for a maiden French Open win with a first-round victory against Joao Sousa.
The French is the only grand slam that does not sit in Djokovic’s trophy cabinet and he has been widely tipped to amend that over the coming weeks – largely due to Rafael Nadal’s recent failures on the red surface.
Sousa did little to stop him in this one, with Djokovic winning 6-1 6-2 6-4 – as easily as he did when the two met at the US Open last year.
Andy Murray, who is close to naming his new coach, plays Andrey Golubev in his first match today. The French Open has been by far the 27-year-old’s least successful slam, with Murray’s only semi-final appearance coming in 2011. And he has Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and Nadal in his half of the draw this time.