By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) - Justine Henin returned to the place she describes as her garden on Tuesday after a lengthy absence and found everything pretty much how she left it even if her game still needed a little tidying.
As homecomings go, however, it was a low-key occasion.
The 27-year-old, kitted out in functional pink skirt and top, has never been much for glitz and fanfare, preferring to let her thoroughbred game do the talking.
That was the case again on Tuesday as she opened proceedings on a half-full Chatrier Court with a no-nonsense display.
Pironkova, ranked 81 in the world, did not roll out the red carpet for the returning queen of clay and hung around for an hour and half, just long enough for Henin to make sure everything was still in good working order.
A few trademark backhands raised the noise levels from the fans, some kitted out in the Belgian colors, and shouts of "Allez Juju" occasionally rung out on another sweltering morning in the French capital.
Watching tennis before lunch, even if one of the greatest woman players to slide on a clay court, is not quite the Parisian way but it promises to be livelier later when the city's adopted prince of clay Rafa Nadal begins the task of taking back his throne against French teenager Gianni Mina.
Unlike Henin, Nadal never went away, but his fourth round exit here last year to Robin Soderling, his first ever defeat at Roland Garros, raised fears among his adoring army of fans that the Spaniard's aura had gone, possibly never to return.
A year later and with the tendonitis in his knees now under control, Nadal has rediscovered the old magic and so far during the claycourt season he has proved unstoppable, winning all 15 of his matches on the red dirt this year.
Mina, an 18-year-old French wildcard with a strong resemblance to Gael Monfils and who is ranked 655th in the world, would not have slept particularly well on Monday night as he prepared for the biggest match of his life.
Her backhand did not fire on all cylinders and she was troubled by Pironkova's power in the early stages.
She took command with a break in the eighth game of the opening set and appeared to have plenty in reserve as she claimed a nerve-settling victory in an hour and 29 minutes.
The French Open's unique scheduling means that first round matches are spread over three days and several other top seeds were making their bows on Tuesday.
American Andy Roddick, who reached the fourth round here last year, followed Henin on to Chatrier against Finland's Jarkko Nieminen while Spain's Fernando Verdasco wasted no time getting his challenge under way, beating Russia's Igor Kunitsyn in straight sets.
Former women's world number one and last year's runner-up Dinara Safina, was also in action against Japan's Kimiko Date Krumm, the 39-year-old who made her Roland Garros debut when Safina was just three years old.
(Editing by Miles Evans)