It is hard for Rafael Nadal to impress anyone in Paris. The Spaniard has won nine Roland Garros crowns, and lost just twice in the City of Lights since his first appearance in 2005. He won it all that year, too.
Yet this year, the Spaniard has been more than impressive in the opening week, limiting his first four opponents to a combined 20 games in 12 sets, clearly establishing himself as the man to beat as the tournament field narrows.
“Nadal is at his best,” Bautista Agut said after his 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 loss against the world No. 4. “He plays every point with great intensity and yields nothing. You try to take a few risks, and then of course you make more mistakes than usual.”
It has been a lose-lose situation against Nadal. He is beating his opponents with overwhelming power and impenetrable defense, or they are beating themselves because they have no choice but to play outside of their comfort zone in an attempt to challenge the 31-year-old.
Just look at Bautista Agut as an example: Nadal’s compatriot is the No. 18-ranked player in the world, and has reached at least the third round of the last eight Grand Slams including this French Open. But he barely managed to make a scratch in Nadal’s armor.
“I played against a very good player,” Nadal admitted. “I probably didn't play as well as I did the other day, but I still played well.”
It is not like Nadal hasn’t had to deal with a variety of challenges throughout the tournament, either.
In his opener, Nadal got a taste of the French crowd against Benoit Paire, a capable talent when he is focused. Nadal lost just six games.
In the second round, he faced Robin Haase—who led Nadal by two sets to one at Wimbledon in 2010 before eventually faltering. Nadal lost only eight games.
Then he took on Nikoloz Basilashvili, a streaky ball-striker capable of scaring plenty of players. Nadal lost just a single game.
“Today was one of the best matches I have ever played,” Nadal said. “Without a doubt.”
The numbers back up Nadal’s form as well — the King of Clay has only lost fewer games through four rounds at a Grand Slam once in his career. That was at the 2012 French Open (19 games), which Nadal would go on to win.
Nadal turned 31 last week, but the best present he could hope for was a start like this and a finish with a record tenth Coupe des Mousquetaires.
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