French Open: Rafael Nadal eyes 14th title with convincing victory

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Rafael Nadal began his pursuit of an unprecedented 14th French Open title with a hard-fought straight-sets success against Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday afternoon.

The Spaniard – level on 20 Grand Slam titles alongside Roger Federer – is chasing another slice of history on the Parisian clay, and he kicked off his campaign with a 6-3 6-2 7-6 victory over the spirited Australian.

Popyrin made a positive start on the sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court, and although Nadal stamped his authority on proceedings midway through the contest, the world No 61 also fashioned out set points in a high-quality third set.

However, the 21-year-old was unable to replicate Daniel Brands and John Isner by becoming the third man to take a set off Nadal in the opening round at Roland Garros, as the 13-time champion prevailed in two hours and 23 minutes.

In his 103rd appearance on the red dirt, Nadal secured his 101st victory to set up a second-round showdown against Richard Gasquet, who eased past his compatriot Hugh Gaston in straight sets.

Nadal has remarkably relinquished just 27 sets throughout his French Open career, and he defied a positive start from Popyrin to wrap up the opening set with a solitary break of serve.

The Australian fired down four aces in his first three service games, but Nadal converted his only break point to move 5-3 ahead, before closing out the set with a commanding hold.

Having been level at 3-3 in the opener, Nadal extended his winning sequence to seven games to establish a 4-0 cushion in the second, and although Popyrin avoided the ignominy of a bagel, that only provided a temporary reprieve as the third seed doubled his lead minutes later.

The Spaniard kicked off his latest Roland Garros campaign with a hard-fought straight-sets victory

The talented Australian maintained his aggressive approach, however, and it paid dividends as he secured his first break of serve to lead 4-2 in the third, only to squander two glorious opportunities to force a fourth set.

Popyrin spurned his first set point courtesy of a double fault, before wasting another after miscuing a seemingly regulation overhead, which saw Nadal level at five apiece from 2-5 adrift.

The Spaniard sensed blood and almost registered another break, although Popyrin displayed admirable resistance, saving four break points to force a third set tie-break.

However, the indomitable ‘King of Clay’ produced a virtually flawless breaker to seal his progression in emphatic style, winning it 7-3 to maintain his bid for a record-extending 14th Roland Garros success, with Gasquet his next assignment on Thursday.

The world No 3 has won all 16 of their previous meetings at senior level, with Gasquet’s last win over Nadal incredibly coming when the pair were both 12-years-old.

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