Sunday 25 February 2018

Ruthless Nadal sweeps into second round at French Open as Djokovic fails to impress

Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Robby Ginepri during their men's singles match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris
Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Robby Ginepri during their men's singles match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball during the first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Portugal's Joao Sousa at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris.
Portugal's Joao Sousa returns the ball during the first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Serbia's Novak Djokovic at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris

World No.1 Rafa Nadal started his French Open title defence in ruthless fashion, dismantling American Robby Ginepri 6-0 6-3 6-0 to reach the second round today.

The eight-times champion from Spain wasted no time on a damp day in Paris to set up a meeting with either France's Paul-Henri Mathieu or Austrian wunderkind Dominic Thiem.

Nadal used his whipping forehand to unsettle the world number 279 and never showed the signs of nervousness that sometimes bother him in early rounds.

The sun pierced through the clouds midway through the third set as Nadal wasted two match points, ending the match on his third attempt when Ginepri's backhand sailed long.

Earlier, Novak Djokovic kicked off his bid for a maiden French Open win with a first-round victory against Joao Sousa.

The French is the only grand slam that does not sit in Djokovic's trophy cabinet and he has been widely tipped to amend that over the coming weeks - largely due to Nadal's recent failures on the red surface.

Sousa did little to stop him in this one, with Djokovic winning 6-1 6-2 6-4 - as easily as he did when the two met at the US Open last year.

There was enough to suggest that Djokovic may not be as good a bet as had been claimed, though, with a number of loose shots and concentration lapses likely to be noted by the Nadal camp.

That Djokovic stopped chasing balls down in the third set will be of particular concern to him and coach Boris Becker, with the match going on for far longer than it should have done.

Djokovic made his mark on the match early on, eventually breaking at the end of a nine-minute second game when Sousa netted a forehand to cash in a fifth break point.

He held to love and then broke again, this time at the first attempt, as his opponent planted a two-hander wide.

Sousa would at least respond with a break of his own before a lengthy rain delay, but offered his serve up again on the other side of it.

Not entirely settled on his own delivery Djokovic then went three break points down as he looked to close out the set, but recovered with five points in a row.

The second set started a little tighter but the six-time major winner got the break he was looking for in the fifth game, Sousa double-faulting on break point.

That became a double break as the Serb upgraded a second bonus point when Sousa put a forehand wide, before the rain came again. The players did not leave the court this time and Djokovic entertained the crowd by inviting a ball boy to sit with him under his umbrella.

He had to sharpen up after the restart as he went a break point down but quickly did so and took the set 6-2.

Sousa appeared to be done for now and lost his serve in the third game of the next set, slapping a forehand into the net, and also in the fifth via a brilliant forehand.

The Portuguese did fashion two break points back, though, and took the second of them as Djokovic relaxed. The world number two responded with another break but then lost his own serve as he looked to serve his way into the next round.

Sousa kept it alive for another game, with Djokovic showing minimal interest in returning his shots before finally getting the job done.

In the women's competition, Maria Sharapova once again showed the remarkable turnaround in her clay-court game as she cruised into the second round.

The 2012 champion shrugged off an hour-long rain delay to defeat fellow Russian Ksenia Pervak 6-1 6-2 in 61 minutes.

Sharapova, who in 2007 described herself as a cow on ice when playing on clay, would never have imagined that seven years later it would become her most successful surface.

Five of her last six titles have come on clay, including her only grand slam since 2008, while until losing to Ana Ivanovic in Rome earlier this month, she had gone unbeaten on the surface against every player apart from Serena Williams for three years.

Williams remains the major obstacle, though, and they are likely to meet in the quarter-finals next week in a rematch of last year's final.

Sharapova said: "The clay was very difficult for me, because I had never had mental confidence that I was able to play a three-hour match and have the opportunity to play in the semi-finals or finals.

"I wouldn't say I was physically weak but I didn't recover that well and I wasn't strong enough.

"It took me years to build that confidence in my body and my legs getting stronger and recovering on the court to make it a surface that I actually loved playing on, even if the conditions are like this.

"I think it was one of the biggest individual goals I had, because I realised that I needed to do something about it, and I think I just took it upon myself.

"It's almost like getting away from that fear, 'Okay, you can slide and you can get back in the court'. You don't need to just hang around by the post on the side, it's okay to get back on the court and play your game again."

Sharapova is seeded only seventh this year partly because of shoulder problems at the end of 2013 that brought an early end to her season.

The Russian had to completely remodel her serve after shoulder surgery in 2008, and she revealed new coach Sven Groeneveld has helped her tweak it again.

She said: "Once Sven got on board we worked on a few things just to modify - nothing drastic, but a little thing here and there."

Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova reached round two with a 7-5 6-0 victory over Virginie Razzano.

Cibulkova reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2009, which had been the only time she had progressed that far in a grand slam until her stellar run in Melbourne.

Eighteenth seed Eugenie Bouchard made a fine start to her tournament, thrashing Shahar Peer 6-0 6-2, while seeds Sabine Lisicki and Flavia Pennetta also won.

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