Nadal and Djokovic on course for French Open meeting

Pair due to meet for the 44th time on the Spaniard’s 29th birthday next Wednesday

Rafael Nadal and world number one Novak Djokovic are set to meet each other in the French Open quarter-finals. Photograph: Reuters

Rafael Nadal and world number one Novak Djokovic are set to meet each other in the French Open quarter-finals. Photograph: Reuters

 

The good news for Rafael Nadal is that his clay court game and his waning spirit have been restored to nearly full working order. The bad news is that Novak Djokovic is still in the French Open and rumbling with equal menace towards the quarter-finals, where they are due to collide for the 44th time on the Spaniard’s 29th birthday next Wednesday.

The gap between last year’s finalists may have narrowed from the yawning chasm that had opened up on clay in the past couple of months, but the Serb still looks like the best player in the world on any surface under any conditions.

Even if going 1-4 down in the second set against Jarkko Nieminen on Court Philippe Chatrier on Tuesday hinted at brief jitters, the result was never in doubt. The player who has not lost in 22 matches and sits on top of the rankings with an unassailable 4,000-plus points lead, closed it out 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in a couple of ticks over two hours. He retains the swagger he needs to win this title for the first time.

Defeat

Roland GarrosQuentin Halys

Seeded seventh here for the first time since his rise to prominence, Nadal was precise, brutal and clearly impatient to rediscover the sort of efficiency that has delivered him nine titles here in 10 years. “I started a little bit slow, then [after three games] I started moving the ball better,” Nadal said. “I am happy. It is the first match. I played well enough. I think my forehand worked well for a lot of moments.”

He didn’t strike a single ace in an hour and 50 minutes but neither did he appear to strain for one. His priority was accuracy, which hit 78 per cent on his first serve in the concluding set, as he powered it down to an average of 153kph. Relentless top spin Halys took one of two break points that came his way but, as ferociously as he struck his ground strokes, he could not take the sting from Nadal’s relentless top-spun replies, and hit 52 unforced errors. The champion also hurt the teenager at the net, winning the point on 14 of 16 visits.

Nadal has reverted to his high-tech, French-made Babolat racket, pushing buttons on the top of the handle during breaks to register stats to crunch before his second-round match against his compatriot Nicolas Almagro, who took two hours and 26 minutes to beat Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6.

Djokovic, though, had the stiffer test against a seasoned 33-year-old opponent, holding on to a world ranking of No 87 and determined to give of his best on the centre court of a slan. Nieminen played artfully at times, but Djokovic had too much of everything for him, winning 104 of the available 182 available points, with 40 clear winners and half a dozen aces.

He rarely appeared pressured to move into top gear but, during his minor difficulty in the second set, gave the impression he would find a way to stop the contest going four sets. “I played some good shots, stayed calm and overall it was a good performance,” Djokovic said.

Serena Williams powered her way into the second round of the women’s singles with a 6-2 6-3 win over Czech qualifier Andrea Hlavackova. Williams is gunning for her third major title at Roland Garros and the American encountered few problems in dispatching Hlavackova, who is ranked 166th in the world and has never made it past the first round in Paris. Guardian Service

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