The Spaniard begins his bid for a record-setting 21st Grand Slam title with a straight sets win over Popyrin

Rafael Nadal began his bid for a record-setting 21st Grand Slam title with a straight sets win on Tuesday as the fallout from Naomi Osaka’s revelations over depression and anxiety sent shockwaves through Roland Garros.

Nadal, the 13-time champion in Paris, defeated 63rd-ranked Alexei Popyrin of Australia 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(3) to take his record at the tournament to 101 wins against just two losses.

“I was lucky to win that third set, I don’t know how (I did). The beginning of the match had been very tough too,” said Nadal, who had been 2-5 down in the third set, saving two set points.

“In these warm and fast conditions it’s always very difficult. He’s young and the speed of his ball is very strong.”

Up next is fellow 34-year-old Richard Gasquet.

The pair first played one another when they were children. As professionals, Nadal leads 16-0.

Winning return

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty marked her return to Paris for the first time since her 2019 title triumph by beating American left-hander Bernarda Pera 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 but admitted she was fighting a hip problem. Barty, 25, skipped the defence of her title in 2020 due to the pandemic but this year has won trophies at the Yarra Valley Classic, Miami and on clay in Stuttgart in the run-up to Roland Garros.

French Open | Nadal advances, Barty fights through hip problem

 

After easing through the first set on Court Philippe Chatrier, Barty went off the boil in the second and called for the trainer at the changeover. “I’m not going to hide behind the fact I’m not quite 100%,” said Barty, whose left thigh was heavily strapped.

“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.”

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina recovered from a 2-5 second set deficit to beat French teenager Oceane Babel 6-2, 7-5.

Andreas Seppi, playing in his 63rd successive Grand Slam, stunned 20th seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-4.

For Seppi, it was a first win at any level this year.

Venus bows out

Venus Williams, playing the tournament for the 24th time and a runner-up 19 years ago, saw her 89th Grand Slam end at the first hurdle as Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova eased to a 6-3, 6-1 win over the 40-year-old American.



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