Nadal, Djokovic, Alcaraz sweep into French Open round of 16

Paris, May 27 (EFE).- Pre-tournament favorites Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz all cruised into the fourth round of the French Open on Friday with straight-set victories.

Djokovic, the world No. 1 and defending Roland Garros champion, booked his spot in the last 16 by downing 195th-ranked Slovenian Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.

Full of confidence after winning a key tune-up event in Rome earlier this month, the Serbian has shown championship form through three matches and was virtually impeccable Friday on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion dominated his service games from start to finish and saved the lone break point he faced, while his strong play on return led to five breaks of Bedene’s serve.

Afterward, Djokovic acknowledged that his level on the day was close to optimal.

“You can’t play a perfect match but you always try to play close to perfection. I have big expectations on my level every day, whenever I enter a tennis court, when I am at training, to try and play my aggressive tennis. It’s not always possible, but today I did really well.”

The Serbian has not dropped a set to this juncture but faces a much sterner test on paper Sunday against Argentine 2020 Roland Garros semifinalist Diego Schwartzman, who routed Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 on Friday.

Nadal, who lost a grueling semifinal to Djokovic last year, is racing against time to find his top form after suffering a stress fracture in one of his ribs at an event in Indian Wells, California, in March and missing several weeks of the clay-court season.

On Friday, he stormed out of the gates to win the first two sets against big-hitting Dutchman Botic Van de Zandschulp, making effective use of his slice serve out wide in the ad court and executing some delicate drop-shot winners.

Nadal nearly let a big third-set lead slip away when he faced a break point while serving for the match at 5-4, but he got out of that jam to clinch a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

“I was able to play my best match of the tournament so far, without any doubt. For two sets and a half, I was playing at a very positive level. And that’s very good news for me,” the winner of a record 21 Grand Slam men’s singles titles said afterward.

Next up for the 13-time Roland Garros champion will be an aggressive baseliner who has enjoyed more success on hard court than clay, Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The 21-year-old Canadian has a key ally in his corner ahead of that round of 16 match in coach Toni Nadal, who is the uncle of the Spanish great and was the guiding force in his nephew’s climb to superstardom.

Nadal and Djokovic are now one win away from setting up a quarterfinal blockbuster showdown.

In Friday’s night match, 19-year-old Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz avenged his only loss of this year’s clay-court season by cruising past American Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

Known for his firepower off both ground strokes, Alcaraz also showed he can win matches with consistency as well.

Korda struck nine aces to the Spaniard’s one and Alcaraz had just a slight 24-23 edge in winners, but the American’s much higher unforced error count (40-26) proved to be his undoing in a lopsided contest.

Two days after rallying from a match point down and a 3-0 deficit in the fifth set, Alcaraz on Friday showed he can not only fight from behind but also be an effective frontrunner.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m losing, winning, tough moment, tough match, I keep my style the whole match,” Alcaraz told reporters afterward.

Next up for the talented young Spaniard in the round of 16 will be Russia’s Karen Khachavov, who defeated Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-2, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4. EFE

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