There is undoubtably more interest in the top half of the draw with the Big Three drawing closer to actually (possibly) facing each other in the latter stages of this year’s French Open.
Just a very difficult ball to handle in these kind of conditions, when it’s a bit warmer. The balls are different (to the) balls that we used previously in Roland Garros. These balls during the day, are bouncing really high. “f you have a good serve it helps. So I think I found the right serve at the right time to get me out of the trouble in the third set when he was looking to come back from a break down. Novak Djokovic
As the tournament draws closer to the second week, the three remain on course for those historic clashes having comfortably progressed into the third round with just one set dropped between them.
Demoted to Suzanne Lenglen court, Novak Djokovic swept aside Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas 6-3 6-2 6-4 and declared himself satisfied, despite the distraction of some ‘fans’ keen to see a tighter and longer match.
“I’m playing well, feeling great,” the world number one and top seed from Serbia said defeating his opponent in their first ever meeting.
“I’m ready to go deep in this tournament. Hopefully that’s gonna be the case, but I’ll take it match by match, and so far the two matches that I have played have been played on a high quality.
“So I’m pleased with the performance today, particularly against I think a very good player, specialist on clay, someone I have never faced before, (and) has got a lot of spin.
“Just a very difficult ball to handle in these kind of conditions, when it’s a bit warmer. The balls are different (to the) balls that we used previously in Roland Garros. These balls during the day, are bouncing really high.
“If you have a good serve it helps. So I think I found the right serve at the right time to get me out of the trouble in the third set when he was looking to come back from a break down.
“The third set was quite even. I think at the beginning and mid part of the third set he had his chances, breakpoints. I think he started playing much better, making less unforced errors, so he made me run and he made me work more. But, you know, I felt comfortable running, playing, all-round game was great. So I’m very, very satisfied with the performance.”
His third-round opponent is the 30-year-old Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis who has slipped down the rankings to 92, in what is a rematch of their second-round meeting at the same venue last October!
Djokovic’s main rival and most likely semi-final opponent, is the 13-time French Open champion Rafa Nadal, seeded three for this year’s tournament.
The Spaniard, on his 35th birthday, was given the dubious honour of closing play in the evening session on Court Philippe-Chatrier, playing against a local boy Richard Gasquet to an empty stadium to comply with the Covid 9.00pm curfew.
Gasquet, who will himself turn 35 in a fortnight’s time, was all at sea during the opening set as the defending champion rolled over him with a bagel set.
But he recovered his poise and while Nadal was never under any serious threat, pushed him hard in the second using his experience to great effect to come close to actually taking a set off the King of Clay!
Nadal progressed 6-0 7-5 6-2 or his 17th victory over Gasquet in as many meetings, and now faces Britain’s No.3 Cameron Norrie for a place in the fourth round, Norrie having beaten South Africa’s rising hope Lloyd Harris 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-2.
“I think I played a great first set, one of the best of the clay court season, in my opinion. No mistakes, high intensity, winners, playing long,” Nadal commented after dispatching the last French player in either draw for the nation’s worst showing at Roland Garros.
“Then in the second, still good. 5-2, set point for 6-2. I didn’t convert that one. And then I had a very bad game with my serve in 5-3, missing a couple of backhands and then forehand in the 30-40.
“Positive feelings. Of course, better playing with crowd, but for the rest of the stuff, I think for most of the match I have been playing a very good level of tennis.”
Nadal has now won his last 32 matches at the French Open with an incredible 102-2 win-loss record at the event.
Lookigng ahead to his meeting with Norrie, a repeat of their third round meeting at this year’s Australian Open which he won in straight sets, Nadal added: “He’s a great player. He’s winning plenty of matches this year.
“Every week he’s making good results, winning against very good players. I know gonna be a tough one. I need to be ready to play my best. I know he has a style of game that is not easy to play against. I need to play well.”
As already mentioned, the only set dropped by one of the Big Three this year so far, was by Roger Federer who, despite another excellent performance following his well documented 18 month layoff, found himself embroiled in an ill-tempered row with the umpire, over towels.
Having dominated the opening set against the former US Open champion from Croatia Marin Cilic, the Swiss great dropped his serve in the second ad then received a time violation for holding Cilic up during the Croat’s service game!
Federer’s usually calm demeanour was disrupted and while he never raised his voice, he discussed the time needed to reach the towel and then returning to receive as causing the problem.
Setting that blip aside, Federer overcame the aggressive play of Cilic to record a very satisfactory 6-2 2-6 7-6(4), 6-2 victory.
“Very good match for me, I thought,” Federer said later. “A bit of up-and-downs in the second and third sets. The good thing, I feel like I come out of a match like this and I know why it was up and down, you know. And then that I was able to attain a solid level once he did break back in the third set and things were looking dangerous for me, that I was able to step up a gear, stay with him, and then pull away from him, I think that gives me a lot of confidence.
“So I think that fourth set was really big and nice for me, because it’s hard to replicate those kind of pressure moments like tiebreaker third set, one set all, and then sort of everything goes flat, you know, beginning of the fourth set. But you have got to stay on top of things, and I was able to almost find another gear, which he couldn’t, and I think that was very nice for me. So I’m very happy.”
He then touched on the time violation.
“I didn’t feel like I was making him wait, until I realized, only when I sat down, it was not even during the conversation I had with him at the net, is that actually Marin had hit a serve once, you know, while I wasn’t in position yet,” Federer said. “And I thought he was working on his serve, which I thought was really odd, but it dawned on me that he must have been upset for a while and I told the umpire, Why didn’t you tell me? I did not know that he was upset. He goes, Well, I figured you knew. I was, like, Okay. Here we are again in a place where you think that I know, and then we, nobody knows. It’s a misunderstanding there.”
Federer will now meet Dominik Koepfer the third round, the German having taken out America’s Taylor Fritz 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-4.
In other action Italians continued to impress as Jannik Sinner, who could face Rafael Nadal in the fourth round beat fellow countryman Gianluca Mager 6-1 7-5 3-6 6-3, while fellow teenager Lorenzo Musetti, dispatched Kapan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 7-5 6-3 6-2.
In addition, Marco Cecchinato took out Australia’s Alex de Minaur6-4 6-1 3-6 6-1 while ninth seeded Matteo Berrettini defeated Federico Cori of Argentina, 6-3 6-3 6-2.
Carlos Alcaraz, a qualifier from Spain and the youngest player in the men’s draw, beat the 28th seed from Georgia Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4 6-2 6-4.
Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, seeded 10 and Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber also progressed as did Sweden’s Michael Ymer who defeated Gael Monfils 6-2 2-6 6-4 6-3 in what could be the Frenchman’s final match at the French Open.