Playing only one tournament ahead of this year's spring clay swing, the king of clay Rafael Nadal embraced his usual schedule on the slowest surface. Rafa completed in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros, winning two titles after many ups and downs and failing to defend his Roland Garros crown.
Rafa defeated Alexei Popyrin in straight sets in the opening round in Paris despite trailing 5-2 in the third set and facing two set points, advancing and setting the second-round encounter with Richard Gasquet. It was their 17th meeting and the 17th triumph for Rafa, who grabbed a 6-0, 7-5, 6-2 victory in two hours and 14 minutes.
Nadal earned his 102nd victory in Paris from 104 encounters, passing slight issues during the night session at Court Philipp-Chatrier to advance into the third round. Describing the match, Nadal said he played on a high level almost from start to finish, especially in the opener, struggling a bit in the closing stages of the second set but still sealing the deal soon after that.
The Spaniard had 36 winners and 23 unforced errors and delivered seven breaks from 16 opportunities to control the scoreboard and extend the winning streak against Gasquet. Nadal was the only player on the court in the opener, bringing it home in no time after 11 winners and three unforced errors.
The Spaniard dropped two points behind the initial shot and secured three return games for a bagel, his milestone 40th at Majors and the 21st in Paris. Nadal held at love in the first game and placed a return winner a few minutes later for a 2-0 advantage.
In the third game, Rafa blasted a backhand down the line to cement the lead and moved 4-0 in front when Gasquet sprayed a forehand error. Nadal fired an unreturned serve in game five and closed the opening set with a forehand crosscourt winner a few minutes later for the strongest start.
Rafael Nadal scored a bagel against Richard Gasquet at Roland Garros.
The Spaniard raced into a 5-2 lead in set number two after only an hour and created a set point in the eighth game before the Frenchman started his comeback, fending off a set point and claiming three straight games for 5-5.
Staying focused, Rafa restored the order and grabbed the set with a late break at 6-5 to move closer to the finish line. Richard fended off two break chances at 1-2 in set number three to remain in touch before Nadal grabbed a break two games later when Gasquet netted a forehand.
Rafa held at 15 in game seven and sealed the deal with another break at 5-2 to advance into the third round. "I think I played a great first set, one of the best on clay this spring. There were no mistakes, and I brought high intensity, winners and deep balls.
The second set was also good until 5-2, but I could not convert the set point in game eight. Then I played a loose service game, and Richard took advantage of it, being a better player in those moments. He served well, but I found a way to win the set.
I had to work a little more in the third, struggling a bit with the wind but bringing the victory home," Rafael Nadal said.