The 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal kicked off his 17th Roland Garros campaign with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 triumph over Alexei Popyrin, beating the Aussie for the second time in a couple of weeks. Everything worked well for Nadal in the opening two sets, and he came back from 5-2 down in set number three to seal the deal in the tie break after fending off two set points in game nine.
Nadal lost serve once and grabbed four breaks to control the scoreboard in most of the encounter, remaining calm in the challenging moments to secure the 101st Roland Garros win. Nadal claimed five points more than Popyrin in the opener, converting seven return points into one break that was enough for 6-3.
Rafa closed the opening game with a volley winner at the net before the Aussie held at love in game two with a powerful serve to get his name on the scoreboard. At deuce in game three, the Spaniard fired two winners to avoid problems, and the Aussie locked the result at 2-2 with another good hold and a forehand winner.
The 13-time winners secured the fifth game with an ace down the T line, followed by the same shot from Alexei, who grabbed the sixth game in style to pass the first part of the set without any problems. Nadal clinched the seventh game with a service winner to remain in front and created the first break chance in the next one with a backhand down the line winner.
Popyrin sprayed a forehand error right after the return to lose serve and push the opponent 5-3 in front. Serving for the opener, Rafa landed a service winner in the ninth game for 6-3 in 38 minutes, playing well so far and hoping for more in the remaining sets.
Like in the opener, they claimed a similar number of return points in the second set, and the more experienced player turned those into his advantage, delivering back-to-back breaks for 6-2. The youngster sprayed a forehand error in the first game to find himself down before creating his first break chance with a forehand down the line winner in game two, 50 minutes since the start of the clash.
Rafael Nadal toppled Alexei Popyrin in straight sets for a winning start in Paris.
Popyrin squandered it with a forehand mistake, and Nadal brought the game home with a volley winner for a 6-3, 2-0 advantage. Alexei placed a backhand long in the third game to lose serve again and fall further behind.
The Spaniard produced three comfortable holds in games four, six and eight to control the result and held at 30 in game eight to move two sets to love in front after 76 minutes. Starting all over, Alexei produced four easy holds in set number three and moved in front with a break in game six when Nadal sprayed a forehand mistake.
Rafa held at love at 2-5 with a forehand winner and had one more chance to prolong the set. The Aussie wasted two set points on serve in the ninth game, failing to make that one last push and sending a forehand long to hand the break to Rafa.
The Spaniard grabbed the third straight game with a forehand winner to lock the result at 5-5 and gain momentum. Returning in game 11, Nadal wasted four break chances, denied by Popyrin, who held after over eight minutes to end the losing streak and secure a tie break. Rafa held at 30 at 5-6 to reach a tie break and win it 7-3 to advance into the second round.