Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have become the men to beat at Roland Garros as the both won straight sets on Wednesday. Both men are moving forward with potentially record-breaking French Open matches after the second round.
Nadal is attempting to win an unprecedented tenth title in Paris, while victory for Djokovic would see the Serbian become just the third man in history — after the great Australians Roy Emerson and Rod Laver — to win each of the Grand Slams on more than one occasion.
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But before contemplating their respective accomplishments, each man had a second round match to attend to, with the shock early exits of seeded players including Alexander Zverev (9), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12) and Jack Sock (14) offering timely reminders that neither Nadal or Djokovic can afford to count their chickens just yet.
Of the two, it is Nadal who looks to be in the better form. Which is unsurprising, given that he boasts a 18-1 win-loss record on clay this year, having won tune-up tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before arriving in Paris at the beginning of this week.
Nadal completely dominated the Dutchman Robin Haase on Court Philippe-Chatrier, winning 6-1 6-4 6-3 against a man who had previously taken him to five grueling sets at Wimbledon in 2010. But on the red dirt of Roland-Garros, Nadal is a completely different player. He hit no fewer than 33 winners in an emphatic performance, with Haase failing to create a single break point.
“I was more or less under control during the whole match,” Nadal said afterwards, a touch modestly. “So I am very happy winning in straight sets, which is always great news. Robin is a dangerous opponent always who can serve very well and hit very strong. So I think I did a lot of things well this afternoon.”
In contrasting fashion, defending champions Novak Djokovic and Garbine Muguruza both advanced to the third round at the French Open on Wednesday.
Second-seeded Djokovic barely put a foot wrong in a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 win over Joao Sousa, while Muguruza had to dig deep to avoid becoming the first reigning champion at Roland Garros to lose in the second round since 2014, when she upset Serena Williams.
Resuming his quest for a 10th title in Paris, Rafael Nadal later joined Djokovic and Muguruza without dropping a set, dispatching Robin Haase 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 49 minutes.
The fourth-seeded Muguruza was made to work hard for more than two hours on the Philippe Chatrier show court before rallying past 53rd-ranked Anett Kontaveit 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2.
Playing at Roland Garros for the 20th time, a record in the Open era, Venus Williams also reached the third round after defeating Kurumi Nara of Japan 6-3, 6-1.
As often in Paris, Djokovic spoke in French during his on-court interview, and joked.
“I’m sorry for my French, my teacher is on holiday,” he said.
On a more serious note, Djokovic said he was pleased with his form after coming through some difficult times since completing a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros last year.
“I felt better than in the first round, that’s exactly what I wanted,” he said.
Given Andy Murray’s lackluster form and the absence of Roger Federer, the second seed Novak Djokovic looks the man most likely to stop Nadal in his pursuit of history. And, under the watchful eye of his new coach Andre Agassi, Djokovic swept past João Sousa 6-1 6-4 6-3 to book his place in the third round, where he will play Argentinian Diego Schwartzman.
Despite winning in straight sets Djokovic looked a little short of his top form, rattling through a comfortable first set in a little over 30 minutes before running into some difficulty in his second. The 12-time Grand Slam champion was broken early into the set by Sousa and appeared to tweak his back during one rough landing, although he quickly recovered his poise to win in three.
After his win, Djokovic was quick to shoot down any suggestion he had suffered an injury. “Well, it was an awkward twist, but it was nothing, nothing really major,” he said. “It was okay. It was just a little pull. He wrong-footed me, and I was in the air trying to catch the ball.”
He also admitted after momentary lapses in concentration in the second and third sets that he would need to improve if he was to win his second successive title. He added: “In some important moments I was kind of hanging in there. Especially in the third set he missed an easy forehand maybe to go break up in the third. It was quite close. But the way I ended the match and last couple of games was positive.”
After dropping the opening set against Kontaveit, Muguruza was down a break in the second before coming back. Playing close to the lines, she got back into her stride and took the decider in 32 minutes on the first of two match points.
“I think she was playing so, so good for the first two sets,” Muguruza said. “I was just hanging in there, being aggressive and waiting for my moment.”
Earlier in the day, Petra Kvitova’s first tournament since being injured in a knife attack at her home was brought to an early end.
The two-time Wimbledon champion, who was seeded 15th, lost 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) to American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Kvitova threw her racket in frustration after double-faulting on match point, but the players warmly embraced at the net.
Kvitova returned to tennis in Paris after being attacked in the Czech Republic in December.
Home favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also exited the tournament, unable to turn around a first-round match against Roland Garros debutant Renzo Olivo that had been suspended on Tuesday due to darkness.
Back on court with the 12th-seeded Tsonga trailing 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 5-4, the Frenchman lasted less than eight minutes, losing the first three points on his serve but managing to save the three match points. Olivo converted the next one with a forehand crosscourt winner to prevail 6-4.
Tsonga had never lost to a player ranked as low as No. 91 at a Grand Slam.
The 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic began his French Open very impressively with a straight sets win over Steve Darcis, although he had to battle back from a set down in his second round match against Rogério Dutra Silva, eventually prevailing 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-4.
Raonic’s serve frequently got him out of trouble: he whistled down 25 aces compared to his opponent’s one, and finished off the match with four in succession. “I felt a little bit sluggish to start,” he said. “I sort of let him really into it, and you could see that he started believing after a while, and that’s always a dangerous state.”
Last year’s semi-finalist Dominic Thiem meanwhile recovered from a slow start to cruise past Simone Bolelli 7-5, 6-1, 6-3. The Austrian, who is the only player to beat Nadal on clay this season, is considered a real dark horse to win the tournament although has been handed a tough draw, and will likely play the in-form David Goffin in the fourth round before Djokovic in the quarters.
“It was a solid match, a solid performance,” he said afterwards. “It was a little bit of a bad start, falling behind 0-3. And it was a pretty early match. But after that bad start, it got better and better. And I am happy that I am through in three sets.”
Thiem is left flying the flag for the ATP’s crop of younger stars, after 20-year-old Zverev lost to the Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco in the first round on Tuesday. When asked what had made the difference in his 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 defeat, Zverev’s response was emphatic: “I played absolute s*** made the difference. It is quite simple.”
There was also an unexpected visitor at the French Open, Serena Williams.
The winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles is not playing for the rest of this season because she is pregnant. Williams found a seat in the shade at Court Philippe Chatrier during her older sister Venus’ match against Nara.
Serena Williams’ baby is due in the fall. She has said she will return to the tour in 2018.