Rafael Nadal recalls: 'I do not know how I stole third set. I was lucky'

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Rafael Nadal recalls: 'I do not know how I stole third set. I was lucky'

The 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal made a winning start in Paris last year after beating Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-3, 7-6. Rafa took down a former junior Roland Garros winner for his 101st triumph at his beloved Major from 103 matches.

The four-time defending champion played well in the opening two sets before Popyrin forged a 5-2 advantage in the third, looking good to clinch it and extend his chances. Serving at 5-3, Alexei created two set points and wasted both after terrible errors.

Rafa Stayed composed and converted a break chance to prolong the set.

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.

Still pushing strong, the Aussie repelled them and introduced a tie break, where he had no room for errors. Nadal fired a forehand crosscourt winner at 1-1 and forged a 4-1 gap following Popyrin's mistakes. A forehand winner pushed Rafa 6-1 up, and he converted the third match point with another powerful forehand that forced Alexei's mistake.

After the encounter, Nadal admitted he did not know how he stole the third set from 5-2 down and the rival's two set points. He stayed competitive and fought for every ball en route to his 26th consecutive set at his beloved Major.

"We are playing the best-of-five matches. The rival needs to win two more sets to beat you, and I know I will 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 going for every shot, so you are in trouble.

If he is having success as Alexei did with his serve, it's difficult to have breaks, and you are in a tricky position. Popyrin has everything to become a top player with his serve and baseline strokes. 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.

Rafael Nadal Alexei Popyrin