Nadal, Halep cruise into French Open third round

PARIS — Rafael Nadal completed another straight-set win to reach the third round of the French Open on Thursday, extending his Roland Garros record to 81-2.

Nadal is once again the big favourite on his favourite surface following a tremendous clay-court season, and the 10-time champion lived up to the status by easily dispatching Guido Pella of Argentina 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Nadal hasn’t lost a set at the French Open since 2015, when he was beaten in the quarterfinals by Novak Djokovic. In 2016, he withdrew with an injured left wrist after a pair of easy victories, then claimed every set he played last year en route to the trophy.

Against Pella, the top-ranked Spaniard saved all four break points he faced and hit 37 winners. He will be up against Richard Gasquet of France in the next round.

Gasquet advanced to this stage for the eighth straight year by defeating Malek Jaziri 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Gasquet and Nadal are both 31 years old and know each other since their teenage years. Nadal has since become a multiple Grand Slam winner and the most successful clay-court player ever, while Gasquet did not live up to the huge expectations surrounding him at the start of his professional career.

He has never beaten Nadal in 15 previous meetings.

Among other seeded players advancing were No. 3 Marin Cilic, No. 6 Kevin Anderson, No. 7 Dominic Thiem and No. 15 Lucas Pouille.

In women’s play, top-ranked Simona Halep, third-seeded Garbine Muguruza and two-time champion Maria Sharapova all powered into the third round with straight-set victories.

Halep showed no signs of fatigue in beating wild-card entry Taylor Townsend 6-3, 6-1, despite playing on consecutive days.

Sharapova improved to 13-0 in second-round French Open matches by beating 50th-ranked Donna Vekic of Croatia 7-5, 6-4.

And Muguruza impressed with her easy movement around the court in a 6-4, 6-3 victory over French wild-card entry Fiona Ferro.

Halep broke the 72nd-ranked Townsend in the first game and jumped to a 5-1 lead.

Townsend dug deep in the eighth game, with Halep serving for the set, clawing back a break to slow the progress of last year’s losing finalist.

Halep swiftly quelled the rebellion. Heaping pressure on Townsend’s serve at 5-3, she earned herself two set points and converted the first, with a forehand winner from the baseline.

Halep tightened the squeeze in the fourth game of the second set. Townsend saved three break points, but hit a backhand long to give Halep a 3-1 lead.

From there, Halep’s serve and shots that pulled Townsend around the Court Philippe-Chatrier finished the job.

She served out the last game to love, breaking into a smile after a winning volley at the net that brought up three match points.

Halep said in her post-match interview that she struggled initially against the left-hander’s shots with topspin. But the score didn’t show it.

Her next opponent, Andrea Petkovic of Germany, beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-0, 7-6 (5) to reach the third round.

Sharapova took a bit of time to close out her match on Court 1. She led 5-2 in the second set, then served for the win at 5-3, but was broken when she sailed an off-balance forehand wide.

She broke right back to end it, though, converting her fifth match point with a forehand return winner.

Sharapova is competing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015. She missed the clay-court Grand Slam tournament in 2016 while serving a doping suspension, then was denied a wild-card entry by the French tennis federation last year, when her ranking was too low to earn automatic entry.

The 31-year-old Russian won the title in 2012 and 2014, part of her career Grand Slam. She is seeded 28th this year.

Next for Sharapova is a matchup against sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, the runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open and a semifinalist in Paris a year ago. Pliskova’s twin sister Kristyna lost to Serena Williams in the first round this week.

Pliskova reached the third round with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over 2015 French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova.

Muguruza’s third round opponent is Sam Stosur of Australia. Ferro, ranked 257th, posed little difficulty for the 2016 champion. They exchanged breaks of serve at the start of the second set. But the Spaniard broke Ferro again in the seventh game to take the lead and closed out the win with her first match point on Ferro’s serve two games later.

 

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