Rafael Nadal made a winning start of his 17th Roland Garros, beating the young Aussie Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 in two hours and 23 minutes. Like in Madrid, Popyrin gave his best against the king of clay, playing bold and aggressive tennis and opening a 5-2 lead in the third set that he failed to bring home and prolong the clash.
Nadal saved two set points and stole the set in the tie break to seal the deal and move into the next round. Alexei had more winners than Rafa and more unforced mistakes, struggling to keep the pace on the second serve and getting broken four times from 11 chances offered to the Spaniard.
Nadal played well in the opening two sets to forge the advantage before Popyrin raced into a 5-2 lead 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, allowing Rafa to convert a break chance and prolong the set.
Mats Wilander shared thoughts about Rafael Nadal's Roland Garros win.
The Spaniard locked the result at 5-5 and created four break chances in the next one, denied by the Aussie, who secured a tie break, where he had no room for errors.
Nadal fired a forehand crosscourt winner at 1-1 and opened a 4-1 gap following Popyrin's mistakes. A forehand winner pushed Rafa 6-1 up, and he seized the third match point with another powerful forehand that forced Alexei's mistake, celebrating the 101st victory in Paris.
Mats Wilander said that Popyrin couldn't deal with Nadal's spins that cause you to play a clear shot or miss the court by a mile. "The ball is bouncing so high, and Rafa loves that; we think he prefers it but let's not forget what happened at Roland Garros last year.
The ball bounces so high that Popyrin can't control it at all when Rafa hits the return two and a half meters over the net and has 4000 RPMs on it. You could literally hit shots that clear the fence if you mishit a bit, so it's nearly impossible to control.
I thought Popyrin served better in the third set, serve and volleying a bit to disturb Rafa's rhythm. When he served at 5-3, he missed an easy volley and an easy forehand, and that's the problem - you choke a bit against Rafa's spin.
You have to be a little relaxed and hit through the ball. When you get a little tentative, that ball can go anywhere, and it's challenging to control," Mats Wilander said.