Nadal saves two set points to cap off straight-set win over Popyrin

Rafael Nadal kicked off his 2021 French Open campaign with a straight-set win over Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday. Nadal had to save two sets points before taking the third.

Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros in 2021

Rafael Nadal began his bid for a 14th French Open title by beating Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(3) on Tuesday afternoon. Nadal needed two hours and 23 minutes to set up a second-round showdown against good friend and familiar foe Richard Gasquet.

The world No 3 dominated the first two sets before running into some trouble in the third. Popyrin broke serve for the first and only time to seize a 4-2 lead, which he consolidated for 5-2. That ultimately allowed the 21-year-old Australian to serve for the set at 5-3, and it looked like he would do so successfully when he built a 40-15 advantage. However, he squandered the first set point with a double-fault and then missed an overhead way long on his second chance. Popyrin went on to donate serve with two wild forehands.

From there Nadal managed to force a tiebreaker, which he rolled through seven points to three.

“Even losing the third set I (would) have been in a very good position to try to win the match,” the third seed said. “Match point is a different story. You lose the point, you’re over. You are back home. Here you lose the set. Okay, we are playing best-of-five. The other player needs to win two more sets to beat you, and I know I’m gonna be there fighting for every single point.”

“So of course I don’t want to lose the set at all, but that’s part of the game. You face a player that [ who has] decided to go for every shot, so you are in trouble. If he’s having success like he did with his serve, then it’s difficult to have breaks; then you are in a tricky position.”

OPPORTUNITY MISSED FOR POPYRIN

Popyrin reflected on the match during his press conference.

“It’s an experience; I would say it’s a good experience. It was a good match. I think it’s his court. It will always be his court. I think it’s his favorite court to play on. And to nearly get a set out of him playing my first time on that court is a good achievement for me. But I’m still disappointed with it.

“I think the emotion right now is definitely disappointment. Choked in that third set; could have taken to the fourth; should have taken it to the fourth. We chalk this one down to experience, but I don’t want to chalk many matches down to experience much longer. I think I’m experienced enough to not choke at 5-3, 40-30. You know, I’m disappointed with that. But overall I think I played a good [match].”¬†

Meanwhile, Nadal is now 101-2 lifetime at Roland-Garros heading into Thursday’s matchup with Gasquet. The 34-year-old Spaniard is sweeping the head-to-head series 16-0.

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