Paris, Jun 1 (EFE).- Rafael Nadal kicked off his quest for a record-extending 14th French Open title and record-setting 21st Grand Slam men’s singles title with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) first-round victory here Tuesday over big-serving Australian Alexei Popyrin.
The Spanish world No. 3 dominated the first couple of sets but dropped serve in the third set and had to save two set points before defeating the 2017 Roland Garros junior champion in just under two and a half hours.
Nadal was untouchable in his service games in the first set and managed to break the 21-year-old Australian’s serve in the eighth game before clinching the opener a game later.
A ruthless Nadal then put a stranglehold on the match when he raced out to a 4-0 second-set lead against an opponent who appeared to have run out of ideas. He then capped off the set a few games later with an ace up the T.
Popyrin, however, showed some impressive fighting spirit when he broke Nadal’s serve for the first time and then grabbed a 5-2 lead with a service hold in the following game.
The young Australian faltered, however, when serving for the set at 5-3, committing some wild unforced errors and squandering two set points.
Although Popyrin managed to hold serve one last time to take a 6-5 lead, Nadal was too solid in the tiebreaker and clinched victory when a potent forehand forced his opponent to leave the ball in the net.
“We’re playing best-of-five. The other player needs to win two more sets to beat you, and I know I am going to be there fighting for every single point,” Nadal said afterward of the 5-2 third-set deficit. “Of course I don’t want to lose the set at all, but that’s part of the game. You face a player that (has) decided to go for every shot, so you are in trouble. If he’s having success like he did with his serve, then it’s difficult to have breaks, and then you are in a tricky position.”
Next up for Nadal in the second round will be French veteran Richard Gasquet, who has never defeated his one-time junior rival in 16 matches at the professional level.
In key women’s singles results Tuesday, fast-rising American teenager Cori Gauff kicked off her quest for a maiden Grand Slam title with a 7-6 (13-11), 6-4 victory over Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic, sixth-ranked Ukrainian Elina Svitolina topped French wildcard Oceane Babel 6-2, 7-5 and Australian world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty overcame big-hitting American Bernarda Pera 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
Barty took a medical time-out after losing the second set and revealed afterward that she is dealing with a hip problem, although she said she and her team are confident the injury is manageable.
In other men’s first-round action Tuesday, Russian world No. 7 Andrey Rublev was bounced out of the tournament in a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4 loss to Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.
Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will get his French Open campaign started on Tuesday night against American Tennys Sandgren. EFE