Rafael Nadal started his quest for a 14th French Open title with a straight-sets defeat of Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday. The defending champion will face Richard Gasquet in the second round after a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) victory over powerful Australian Popyrin on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Nadal, eyeing a record 21st grand slam title, saved two set points in the third set as Popyrin gave a demonstration of his promise, but the world number three finished off the job in in two hours and 23 minutes on a glorious day in Paris.
Popyrin held to love in his first service game and matched Nadal in the first set before he ballooned a forehand long and wide to go 5-3 down. Nadal served out the set in typically composed fashion and maintained his momentum in the second, charging into a 4-0 lead.
The third seed lost only three points behind his first serve in the second set, saving the only break point he faced as Popyrin was unable to live with his power and precision. Popyrin would not go down without a fight, though, and although Nadal levelled at 2-2 after fending off a break point, he was unable to deny the world number 63 a first break for a 4-2 lead.
The 21-year-old failed to win two set points when he tried to serve it out at 5-4 up as Nadal got himself out of trouble and went on to dominate the tie-break, ending the match with a rasping forehand that his opponent returned well wide.
Data Slam: King of Clay Nadal up to 101-2
Nadal's latest victory in Paris took his record at his favourite grand slam to a staggering 101 victories and two defeats.
Nadal – 28/23
Popyrin – 34/43
Popyrin – 8/5
BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 4/11
Popyrin – 1/4