Barely eight months later after he won his record equaling 20th career Major and 13th French Open title, Rafael Nadal returned to his beloved Parisian clay on Tuesday to embark on a journey towards a possible 14th crown at the Roland Garros–the tournament that he has made his home over the course of last decade and a half.
The Spaniard wobbled in the third set, but his clay-court prowess and some costly unforced errors from his opponent helped him cruise into the 2nd round without dropping a set. The Word No.3 defeated Australia’s Alexei Popyrin 6-3 6-2 7-6(3) in 2 hours and 26 minutes at Phillipe-Chatrier. In the process, he recorded recorded his 101st win at Roland Garros. With straight-sets victory over the Aussie, the Spaniard is now on a 26-set winning streak at the French Open. He last lost a set in the final against Dominic Thiem in the 2019 final.
On June 3rd, his 35th birthday, Nadal, will meet another long-timer on the tour, Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
French Open Round 2: Rafael Nadal vs Richard Gasquet
The veteran Frenchman overcame Hugo Gaston in a comprehensive 6-1 6-4 6-2 victory, and thereby ended any chances of Gaston’s fairytale story repeating itself this year. Gaston had a dream run at 2020 edition of Roland Garros. He reached the fourth round, defeating the 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka en route. The young Frenchman also pushed Thiem to his limits before eventually succumbing to the Austrian in five sets.
On the ATP tour, with 16-0 head-head record in his favor, the Spaniard has literally owned Gasquet. That is unlikely to change either, as these two veterans lock horns on Thursday. In their last meeting, which was coincidentally at the French Open as well, Nadal wasn’t even troubled. The Spanish comfortably overcame the Frenchman 6-3 6-2 6-2 in their Round of 32 encounter.
Nadal might have stumbled in Monte Carlo and Madrid Masters this season. Nonetheless, his title triumphs–first at Barcelona and especially the one at Rome–has ensured that he has enough success, match practice, and confidence as he aims to conquer his 21st career Major. The Spaniard wasn’t at his ideal best against Popyrin in his opening fixture. However, he can draw positives from the fact that he somehow managed to steal the third set, which he had almost lost, as he aims to keep improving with each passing round in a bid to be at his absolute best come the closing stages of the tournament.
Gasquet is going through his share of problems on the tour, as he has struggled to find any sort of momentum this season. While he is up against an improbable task of downing Rafael Nadal in his upcoming encounter, the home hope can at least look forward to playing at his absolute best while playing each point on its merit if he fancies to have any chances against the “King of clay.”
With one of the few one-handed backhands on the tour, Gasquet can try to take the ball early. His down the line backhand can be lethal if he is able to deliver that shot on a consistent basis, to put Nadal under pressure on his own backhand wing.
While it may seem unlikely that Gasquet can trouble Nadal, it is still an exciting prospect to watch two veterans battle it out. The fact that Nadal would be celebrating his 35th birthday just adds another angle to their contest.
Of course, the most likely result is a straight-sets Nadal win.
Main Photo from Getty.