Last October, Rafael Nadal claimed the 13th Roland Garros crown, beating all seven rivals in straight sets and extending his Parisian dominance. Seeking the 14th title at his favorite tournament this June, Nadal kicked off the campaign with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 triumph over Alexei Popyrin, trailing 5-2 in the third set before bringing it home and avoiding spending more time on the court in the opening test.
It was Nadal's second victory over a former junior Roland Garros champion in a couple of weeks, beating him in Madrid and repeating that in Paris for his 101st Roland Garros victory from 103 encounters! The four-time defending champion played well in the opening two sets before losing ground a bit in the third, overcoming the deficit with a successful return game at 3-5 after fending off two set points.
Rafael Nadal defeated Alexei Popyrin after saving set points in the third.
The Spaniard locked the result at 5-5 and created four break chances in the next one, denied by the Aussie, who did enough to introduce a tie break.
Nadal fired a forehand crosscourt winner at 1-1 and opened a 4-1 gap following Popyrin's mistakes, looking good to seal the deal soon after that. A forehand winner pushed Rafa 6-1 up, and he converted the third match point with a powerful forehand that forced Alexei's mistake.
After the encounter, Nadal admitted he did not know how he stole the third set from those two set points down, staying competitive and fighting for every ball to rattle off the 26th consecutive set at his beloved Major. "We are playing the best-of-five matches.
The other player needs to win two more sets to beat you, and I know I'm going to be there fighting for every single point. Of course, I do not want to lose the set, but that's part of the game. You face a player that has decided to go for every shot, so you are in trouble.
With his serve and baseline strokes, Popyrin has everything to become a top player. If he wants to do it, he will have his chances because he has many strong elements in his game. Let's see what will happen in the following years.
It was a tough match because Popyrin plays aggressive tennis, throwing many balls at me on the fast court. I was lucky to win the third set, and the truth is that I do not even know how I did that. I'm happy to make a winning start in Paris," Rafael Nadal said.