Nadal eases past Popyrin in French Open opener

Filed on June 1, 2021
Spain's Rafael Nadal serves during the match against Australia's Alexei Popyrin. (AFP)

The Spaniard could usurp Roger Federer at the top of the all-time men's list with a 21st Grand Slam title in Paris

Rafael Nadal fought back from 2-5 down in the third set to ensure he started his bid for a 14th French Open title with a comfortable victory over Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old Nadal, seeded third, raced through the first two sets before eventually clinching a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) victory over his Australian opponent.

The Spaniard could usurp Roger Federer at the top of the all-time men’s list with a 21st Grand Slam singles title in Paris.

He started in ominous fashion for his rivals and has still not lost a set at Roland Garros since beating Dominic Thiem in four sets in the 2019 final.

Nadal will take on Frenchman Richard Gasquet, against whom he has won 16 times in as many matches, in the second round.

Meanwhile, world number one Ashleigh Barty admitted that she’s ‘not 100%’ as she marked her return to the French Open for the first time since her 2019 title triumph by overcoming a scare to beat Bernarda Pera to make the second round on Tuesday.

The top-seeded Australian won 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 but she needed a medical timeout after losing the second set and later revealed she was suffering from a hip problem.

“It’s going to be a little bit tough this week. I think over the weekend we had a bit of a flare-up through my left hip, which obviously just needed a bit of help today,” she said.

“I’m not going to hide behind the fact I’m not quite 100% but I can guarantee that I will go out there with the right attitude every day and be really accepting of that and give it a crack no matter what.”

Barty will next face either Magda Linette of Poland or French wildcard Chloe Paquet for a place in the last 32.

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