Nadal has dropped nine games in two matches
Next faces Marcel Granollers
Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams straight-set winners
Eugenie Bouchard ousted
Tougher tests lie ahead for Rafael Nadal at the French Open, but the record nine-time champion isn’t messing around in the early stages.
Nadal has dropped a mere nine games in two rounds, his demolition job Thursday in Paris coming against Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis. And when the Spaniard dismissed the free-swinging left-hander 6-3 6-0 6-3, he became the eighth man to record 200 wins at grand slams.
“The most important thing is a victory in the second round and not the 200 victories,” Nadal told reporters. “It’s only another number.”
Yet if he reaches the quarterfinals, Nadal would tie American Pete Sampras – the man he is level with on 14 grand slams – for seventh with 203 victories.
A few years ago, it would have been a given at Roland Garros, and it still looks likely to happen this time around.
But even with an upturn in fortune during tournaments leading up to the world’s premier clay-court event, this isn’t the same Nadal that was untouchable on these courts every year from 2005-2014, barring one, 2009, when he exited in the fourth round.
In his last three majors overall, Nadal has failed to get beyond the third round.
Nadal should progress to the fourth round, though, given he hasn’t dropped a set in four matches against his next challenger, Marcel Granollers, and cruised past his countryman in Barcelona in April.
The first real challenge would come in the fourth round if Dominic Thiem is on the other side of the net. No one has notched more clay wins this year than the huge hitting Austrian, who downed Guillermo Garcia Lopez 7-5 6-4 7-6 (7-3). Further afield, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic looms.
“I need to keep playing better if I want to have chances in the next rounds,” Nadal said. “I know there are still things I can improve, so I’m still practicing and working on them.”
His struggles at recent grand slams have led some to consider Nadal a sentimental favorite, and that seems to include Andre Agassi.
Sampras’ great rival on the tour decades ago has long been a Nadal fan.
The former No. 1 and French Open champion penned a short but heartfelt letter to Nadal – anyone can do so via a Nike store in Paris – in which he called the soon-to-be 30-year-old “inspiring.” Agassi then posted it on Twitter.
“It took me most (of) my career to accomplish the herculean task of winning the French Open one time,” Agassi wrote. “Watching you attempt to win it for the tenth time is not only remarkable … it is inspiring. You make me believe in life that anything is achievable and nothing is impossible!”
A win for Djokovic would be his first in the “City of Lights.” The French Open has been the Serb’s main priority in recent seasons since it’s the one major to elude him, and the three-time finalist moved closer to a potential semifinal showdown with Nadal by beating Steve Darcis 7-5 6-3 6-4 for a 50th win on the Paris clay.
Darcis, a winner over Nadal at Wimbledon in 2013, enjoyed success in spurts when hitting fine drop shots. Djokovic became irritable in the second set when he was unable to get one back in play, slamming the net with his racket. Darcis goes by the nickname “Shark” but ultimately Djokovic took a bite out of the world No. 161.
His third-round foe, Aljaz Bedene, followed fellow Brit Andy Murray in winning in dramatic fashion, upsetting Pablo Carreno Busta 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 4-6 5-7 6-2.
France’s top men’s hope, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, certainly isn’t averse to drama at the French Open. He was at it again, coming back to beat fellow Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis 6-7 (6-8) 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-2. Tsonga, Nadal’s potential quarterfinal opponent, has now contested six five-setters at the French Open in his last seven visits.
Bouchard’s momentum quashed
In the women’s draw, Eugenie Bouchard’s revival ended in second-round defeat. Bouchard, however, lost to an excellent player, eighth seed and last year’s semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky 6-4 6-4.
Despite the score, it wasn’t routine. Bouchard led 4-1 in the first, only to lose 10 straight games. Bacsinszky hung on in the second.
Bouchard, who said that stress led to weight loss last year after her breakthrough 2014, will now focus on the grass-court swing.
Defending champion Serena Williams overcame Brazil’s Teliana Pereira, one of two South American women in the top 100 alongside Colombia’s Mariana Duque Marino, 6-2 6-1. Williams surrendered just three points behind her first serve.