06/01/2021 at 11:45 PM CEST
October 11, 2020 Rafael Nadal left the Philippe Chatrier with the Musketeers Cup in his hand. That day he taught Novak Djokovic (6-0, 6-2, 7-5) a lesson.
This Tuesday, 233 days later, he again stepped on the Roland Garros center with the same solvency to score the first victory of a seven-game race in search of the 14th title in Paris and the 21st Grand Slam of his career. His first victim, the 101st on this magical track, was the Australian Alexei Popyrin by 6-3, 6-2 and 7-6 (7-3). Novak Djokovic also debuted with solvency in the game that closed the night to beat American Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-4 and 6-2. The number 1 also did not want any kind of surprises in his debut in the Phlippe Chatrier where he left with bad memories seven months ago.
Nadal stepped on his house with very clear ideas of how to face the game against the Australian giant, 21 years old and 1.96 meters tall, world number 63, whom he already knew from beating him in Madrid (6-3, 6-3).
Popyrin, a puncher, the style of the new generations, who supports his game in a powerful serve and flat shots, could only maintain the pulse with until 3-3, but as soon as the Mallorcan snatched the service (5-3) , the Australian fell apart giving seven straight games to 4-0 in the second set.
Nadal imposed his rhythm without giving options, almost no mistakes, very solid of blows, with long and effective exchanges, with which he melted the few hopes of his young rival who days before had declared that he knew “how to beat Rafa & rdquor ;.
Two ‘set balls’ against
Popyrin wanted to show it in the third set, no longer under pressure. The Australian broke Nadal’s serve (4-2) and had two set balls to snatch the set from him. The Mallorcan’s reaction was expeditious. It was not for surprises. With 5-2 against, Nadal managed to force the ‘tie break’ that scored 7-3 to certify the victory, after 2 hours and 23 minutes.
“I was not a comfortable opponent to start with, but I have done a good job. The first ‘break’ has been important to escape on the scoreboard and play calmer,” Nadal said, acknowledging having suffered in the third set “for losing the serve. , although I have solved it in the end & rdquor ;. Some difficulties that allowed him to feel that he is on the right track in the face of the challenge marked on his agenda in red in the final on June 13.
Rublev, one less rival
A still long road and with a possible semifinal against Djokovic who was a little cleaner yesterday with the elimination of Russian Andrei Rublev (7th World Cup and his executioner in Monte Carlo), with whom he could have crossed in the quarterfinals, but who fell to German Jan Lennard Struff 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 3-6 and 6-4.
Tomorrow, the day he will turn 35, Nadal will face an old generation old acquaintance in the second round, eternal French promise, like Richard Gasquet. The first time they met was at the age of 12 in Tarbes in the Petit As promises tournament where the Frenchman beat him in the third set, but in the 16 times they have met on the circuit, he has never been able to beat Nadal.