Cyprus Mail

Nadal begins pursuit of number 10, all seems normal

Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a shot to Quentin Halys of France during their men's singles match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris

By Martyn Herman

The Eiffel Tower was still standing, the River Seine was flowing away to the sea and the traffic still clogged the Peripherique — and Rafa Nadal still ruled Roland Garros on Tuesday.

To all intents and purposes it was just a normal day at the French Open then as Nadal clocked up victory number 67 in western Paris since debuting in 2005.

It felt a little different though as the soon-to-be 29-year-old walked on to Court Phillipe Chatrier – the rectangle of red clay that has been the stage for his nine titles in a decade of unprecedented domination.

Such has been Nadal’s malaise this year, with claycourt defeats piling up from Monte Carlo to Rome, that the Spaniard arrived in Paris only second favourite to claim a record-extending 10th title.

Tasked with providing the first test of Nadal’s supposed fragile confidence was French teenager Quentin Halys, a wildcard making his grand slam debut.

He did just that, pushing 14-times grand slam champion Nadal hard at times before succumbing 6-3 6-3 6-4.

Nadal often takes time to get fully into his stride at Roland Garros, so Tuesday’s one hour 50 minute workout offered few clues as to the health of his game.

His racket was equipped with computer technology meaning he can download statistics later for further analysis.

But the sixth seed will already know that he will have to rediscover his best form to win the title, having been placed in the same half of the draw as world number one Novak Djokovic and third seed Andy Murray.

Djokovic, like Nadal had waited two days for his opening round match and was up against Finlands’s Jarkko Nieminen later.

Women’s top seed Serena Williams was also in action against Czech qualifier Andrea Hlavackova.

If Nadal was nervous, one can only imagine the thoughts going through the mind of 18-year-old Halys.

He dropped his opening service game but was clearly not intimidated, striking the ball with real menace and occasionally having Nadal scrambling around behind the baseline.

Another service game went begging when he served three double-faults but Halys broke Nadal’s serve in the sixth game, prompting loud cheers from a crowd who revere the champion but adore a homegrown youngster taking it to one of the greats.

If the result was never in doubt, Nadal still looked relieved when he clinched victory on his first match point.


While professing himself pleased with the level of his game after failing to win a European claycourt event this year, Nadal sounded a little wistful when commenting on a brash and fearless display from Halys — one of seven teenagers in the draw.

“He risked on every single ball,” he said. “You know, that’s the way tennis going. Younger, aggressive, hitting the ball stronger and quicker, going for the winners all the time.

“But when the point was playing in normal conditions, I think I played well.”

Earlier Nadal’s compatriot David Ferrer, the seventh seed, bustled into the second round with a 6-1 6-3 6-1 win against Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko while US Open champion Marin Cilic hammered Dutchman Robin Haase 6-2 6-4 6-2.

Ferrer, runner-up in 2013, joins Nadal as only the second active player to win 300 claycourt matches.

Not that he was celebrating. “It’s not important. It’s just a number,” said the 33-year-old.

Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, the women’s champion in 2009, was made to work hard by powerful Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, winning 6-1 4-6 6-2, as was fourth seed Petra Kvitova who complained about the cool, heavy conditions on Chatrier Court after grinding past New Zealander Marina Erakovic 6-4 3-6 6-4.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki made short work of Italy’s Karin Knapp, the fifth seed winning 6-3 6-0.

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