Rafael Nadal fought down 2-5 in the third set to ensure he started his run for the 14th French Open title on Tuesday with a comfortable victory for Alexei Popyrin. 34-year-old Nadal, the third Seeded, rode in the first two sets before finally winning 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) over his Australian opponent. “It was a very difficult match with a good player like Alexei. It’s always special and special for me to play here,” he said.
The Spaniard could usurp Roger Federer in first place on the men’s roster, winning his 21st Grand Slam title in Paris.
He started in a worrying way with his rivals and has yet to lose a set to Roland Garros since Dominic Thiem won all four sets in the 2019 final.
Nadal will take on Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who has won 16 more matches against him in the second round.
Questions about Nadal’s appearance were asked earlier in the clay season when Andrey Rublev lost at the Monte Carlo Masters and Alexander Zverev at Madrid.
But he went on to win the Italian Open title, beating Novak Djokovic in the final.
He took that form in the first two sets against Popyrin, who beat the 21-year-old with 18 winners.
The youngster seemed to be in first place to force the fourth set as Nadal lost just two points on his set as he showed his famous recovery power.
The current champion came out on top 6-1 in the tie before getting a second-place finish in the third round.
“I was lucky to win that third set, I don’t know how I did it,” Nadal added.
“The start of the match has also been very tough. In these warm and fast conditions it is always very difficult. He is young and the speed of his ball is very hard.”
It was Nadal’s 101st career victory at the French Open, with just two losses against him – Robin Soderling in 2009 and Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals.
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