Efficient Rafa storms into second week

 - Danielle Rossingh

12-time champion Nadal has dropped just 19 games through his opening three matches at Roland-Garros 2020

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2020, third round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

What makes Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer stand out from the rest of the field?

They all know how to get the job done in the early rounds of the majors.

Over the years, the 'Big Three', who have won an astonishing 56 Grand Slam singles championships between them, have learnt not to waste too much energy in the first week of a major, so they can be at their best when it matters the most.

Perhaps the most ruthlessly efficient of them all has been Nadal at Roland-Garros. On Friday, the 12-time champion crushed Stefano Travaglia 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 to move to the second week without the loss of a set.

“We are in a very strange situation, after a lot of months without much tennis, especially for me, that I didn’t play in America, I don’t know if it’s a positive thing or a negative thing,” Nadal said, when asked how important it was to keep his early-round matches short and sweet.

“But I take it like a very positive thing. I am playing quite well to win against a player like Stefano today with this score.

"It’s because I did a lot of things well. I played more aggressive than the previous days...I went to the net more often, and I hit a lot of winners. My serve is working better. So let’s see, I need to keep going, and hope to keep improving a little bit every single day.”


Nadal produced 28 winners, 15 more than his opponent, while he made just 13 unforced errors. Travaglia, who had beaten former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori of Japan in his previous round, produced 24 mistakes. Nadal rushed to the net 23 times, winning the point 19 times.

Having skipped the US Open, there had been some question marks over Nadal’s form after the 34-year-old Spaniard was beaten by Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in the last eight of Rome, the only tournament he played before Paris. For the first time in his long career, Nadal has not won a clay-court title prior to Roland-Garros.

Even Nadal himself had sounded a little unsure, telling reporters shortly before the tournament the colder conditions at this year’s delayed tournament were “the most difficult” he had ever encountered at Roland-Garros.

“Just trying to find the positive vibes every single day,” he said.

‘Every match is a challenge’

He needn’t have worried.

Nadal has hit the ground running at Roland-Garros in the first week, dispatching Egor Gerasimov of Belarus in two hours, five minutes, followed by a one hour, 40-minutes drubbing of American Mackenzie McDonald.

Although he spent just one hour, 35 minutes on a covered Court Philippe-Chatrier on Friday against Travaglia, Nadal celebrated his 96th win at Roland-Garros with a jump and a huge fist pump.

“Today I played against an opponent that he was playing very well,” said Nadal, who may play US Open winner Dominic Thiem in the semi-final, followed by the top-seeded Djokovic in the title match.

“I went on court with the highest respect, just with the goal to play my best. I made a step forward in a lot of ways. He played a great second set, was close. I was able to find a way. Happy for that. I don't feel that I am that dominant. The result says, but the game is another story. Every single match is a challenge.”

Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros 2020, 3e tour©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Rafa the cat

His next opponent is a rising star with a familiar name: Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of former Australian Open champion and 1992 Roland-Garros finalist Petr Korda. The 213th-ranked American pulled off the biggest win of his career when he beat the big-serving American John Isner in the second round.

“He’s my biggest idol,” Korda said of Nadal, after reaching the third round in his first appearance in the main draw of Roland-Garros. “He's one of the reasons I play tennis. Just watching him play, unbelievable competitor. Just from him I have the never-give-up mentality. Whenever I'm on court, I try to be like him.”

In fact, Korda was such a fan of the 19-time major winner, he even named his cat after him. “That says a lot about how much I love the guy.”

Nadal is expecting a “tough one”.

“He's playing great, he's young, he has energy,” said the Mallorcan 12-time Roland-Garros champion. “He has a lot of ingredients to become a big star of this sport, no?...I need to be ready for a good battle. I hope to be. I think I am playing better every single day. Hopefully I am able to keep going.”