Clinical Nadal advances in straight sets

Nadal will take on his fellow veteran Richard Gasquet in the second round, as he continues his bid for a record-extending 14th French Open success; The Spaniard is also aiming to overhaul Roger Federer’s tally of 20 Grand Slam titles in Paris

Last Updated: 01/06/21 6:45pm

The 13-time French Open champion will face two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Richard Gasquet in round two
The 13-time French Open champion will face two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Richard Gasquet in round two

Rafael Nadal began his pursuit of an unprecedented 14th French Open title with a hard-fought straight-sets success against Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday afternoon.

The Spaniard – level on 20 Grand Slam titles alongside Roger Federer – is chasing another slice of history on the Parisian clay, and he kicked off his campaign with a 6-3 6-2 7-6 victory over the spirited Australian.

Popyrin made a positive start on the sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court, and although Nadal stamped his authority on proceedings midway through the contest, the world No 61 also fashioned out set points in a high-quality third set.

However, the 21-year-old was unable to replicate Daniel Brands and John Isner by becoming the third man to take a set off Nadal in the opening round at Roland Garros, as the 13-time champion prevailed in two hours and 23 minutes.

In his 103rd appearance on the red dirt, Nadal secured his 101st victory to set up a second-round showdown against Richard Gasquet, who eased past his compatriot Hugh Gaston in straight sets.

Nadal has remarkably relinquished just 27 sets throughout his French Open career, and he defied a positive start from Popyrin to wrap up the opening set with a solitary break of serve.

The Australian fired down four aces in his first three service games, but Nadal converted his only break point to move 5-3 ahead, before closing out the set with a commanding hold.

Having been level at 3-3 in the opener, Nadal extended his winning sequence to seven games to establish a 4-0 cushion in the second, and although Popyrin avoided the ignominy of a bagel, that only provided a temporary reprieve as the third seed doubled his lead minutes later.

The Spaniard kicked off his latest Roland Garros campaign with a hard-fought straight-sets victory
The Spaniard kicked off his latest Roland Garros campaign with a hard-fought straight-sets victory

The talented Australian maintained his aggressive approach, however, and it paid dividends as he secured his first break of serve to lead 4-2 in the third, only to squander two glorious opportunities to force a fourth set.

Popyrin spurned his first set point courtesy of a double fault, before wasting another after miscuing a seemingly regulation overhead, which saw Nadal level at five apiece from 2-5 adrift.

The Spaniard sensed blood and almost registered another break, although Popyrin displayed admirable resistance, saving four break points to force a third set tie-break.

However, the indomitable ‘King of Clay’ produced a virtually flawless breaker to seal his progression in emphatic style, winning it 7-3 to maintain his bid for a record-extending 14th Roland Garros success, with Gasquet his next assignment on Thursday.

The world No 3 has won all 16 of their previous meetings at senior level, with Gasquet’s last win over Nadal incredibly coming when the pair were both 12-years-old.

Struff struts his stuff in five

Andrey Rublev became the second top-10 player to crash out in the opening round, after succumbing to Jan-Lennard Struff in a compelling five-set epic.

Seventh seed Rublev fought back from two sets down to force a decider, only for Struff – who has now won his last seven five-set matches – to close out a 6-3 7-6 4-6 3-6 6-4 victory.

Felix Auger-Aliassime was another seeded casualty on Tuesday afternoon. The 20-year-old Canadian was beaten in four sets by Italian veteran Andreas Seppi, who registered just his second win at Roland Garros since 2015.

However, last year’s semi-finalist Diego Schwartzman endured no such difficulty, as he cruised past Lu Yen-Hsun in straight sets, relinquishing just seven games en route to victory.

Monfils received a standing ovation for his display on Court Suzanne Lenglen
Monfils received a standing ovation for his display on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Gael Monfils also advanced to the second round, recovering from losing the opening set to defeat world No 38 Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Vinolas stormed to the opening set in 24 minutes and led 4-1 in the second, but the 13th seed – roared on by his home faithful – prevailed in a thrilling second set tie-break, which ignited his comeback.

Monfils has spoken candidly about performing in the sterile behind-closed-doors environments, and he thrived in the partisan atmosphere generated on a rapturous Court Suzanne Lenglen.

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Source : Sky Sports