In his first match since a record-extending 13th Roland Garros title, Rafael Nadal marked his return to competition in the very same city with a rusty victory over Feliciano López. After dropping the first set to his 39-year-old countryman, Nadal recovered to win 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 at the Paris Masters.
Across the city from Roland Garros, Nadal’s record is not quite as impressive indoors at the AccorHotels Arena. Paris remains one of the few major gaps in his resumé, the world No 2 having reached only one final there in his career.
Nadal is often described as an indoor hard courts sceptic, but his inability to remain healthy at the end of the year has also contributed to his performances in this stretch. Such fatigue is unlikely this time. Nadal has played only two tournaments since February, which also marked his last outing on hard courts.
Despite his ability to elevate every facet of his game at Roland Garros, this was a more accurate reflection of his lack of consistent matchplay. Nadal struggled from the very beginning, dropping his opening service game with a double fault and failing to break López’s vicious serve throughout the first two sets.
It was not until the second set tiebreak that Nadal found another level, elevating his game to snatch the set before he opened the third set by finally securing his first break of the match. From there he never looked back. Victory made him the fourth player to record 1,000 ATP Tour wins behind Jimmy Connors (who leads with 1,274), Roger Federer (1.242) and Ivan Lendl (1,068).
As he searches for his first title at both of the two remaining events in Paris and the upcoming ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London, Nadal will have to perform at a much higher level to achieve his goals. However, he also has to survive the tough days in order to give himself a chance of producing his best tennis. On Wednesday, he did so and he moved on.
“One very negative thing about getting to 1,000: you are very old,” said Nadal, laughing. “To win 1,000 matches you need to have a very long career. But I’m super happy. Of course, to arrive at that number means that I did a lot of things well and during a long time.”
Earlier, Alexander Zverev beat Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2, 6-2 to reach the third round in Paris, completing his first singles match since he was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend, Olya Sharypova.
In an Instagram post last week, Sharypova accused Zverev of numerous instances of physical abuse, including hitting her head against a wall multiple times and trying to “strangle [her] with a pillow” during their relationship in 2019. She was later interviewed by the Russian publication Championat. “This was not the first situation, there were a lot of them,” she said. “But every time I tried to forget it and blamed myself for it.”
Zverev previously denied the allegations as “simply not true” and “unfounded” in a short social media statement. After his match on Wednesday, he said: “Right now, I have said everything on my Instagram, there is nothing else I can add right now. I am here to play tennis.”
In the doubles draw, Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski defeated Hugo Nys and Artem Sitak 7-5, 7-6(5) to reach the second round. The British team currently sit in 7th place in the ATP doubles race as they pursue one of the top eight spots in the ATP Finals.