After the hullabaloo surrounding his chequered preparations for the French Open, Rafael Nadal continued his relatively serene progress through the opening rounds of the tournament with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov that was every bit as straightforward as the scoreline suggests.
If Nadal’s confidence was ebbing in the prelude to Roland Garros, when he failed to win a title on the European clay-court swing for the first time in a decade, then the restorative powers of a first week in which he has resembled his old self more closely with each passing round should not be underestimated.
Greater tests lie ahead, of course – most immediately a last-16 meeting with Jack Sock, the rising American who accounted for Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round – but Patrick McEnroe’s pre-tournament prediction that an early defeat might persuade Nadal to quit the sport entirely is starting to look a trifle overstated. The Spaniard’s chances of extending his collection of French Open titles into double figures, a feat that would make him the only man in history to win the same major 10 times, look an awful lot better than they did on the eve of the tournament.
Certainly Nadal was too good for Kuznetsov, a former junior Wimbledon champion who is coached by his father, Alexander, and has yet to progress beyond the third round of a major. The rangy Russian hit some fine shots, not least when he briefly thwarted Nadal’s efforts to close out the second set, but if the defending champion felt constrained in the more cramped environs of Court Suzanne Lenglen it did not show.
“I enjoyed my first match on Suzanne Lenglen,” said Nadal. “I think I’ve been playing a little bit better. Playing here in Paris is always amazing for me. Things are going better, and being in the fourth round is a great feeling.”
The win keeps Nadal on course for a projected quarter-final clash against the top seed and world No1 Novak Djokovic, who earlier won 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 against the talented Australian teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis. Djokovic, twice a beaten finalist at Roland Garros, won in an hour and 49 minutes to stretch his recent unbeaten streak to 25 matches.
“He has a lot of talent and strength,” said Djokovic of an opponent regarded, alongside compatriot Nick Kyrgios – who was earlier beaten in straight sets by Andy Murray – as the next great hope of Australian tennis. “He has plenty of time to do great things. I hope he does as he has a lot of qualities.”
This article was written by Les Roopanarine, for theguardian.com on Saturday 30th May 2015 16.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010