Nadal dashes home hopes for 300th Slam match win

 - Stephanie Livaudais

Thirteen-time champion was Moutet's childhood idol but showed no mercy on him under lights in Paris

Rafael Nadal / Deuxième tour Roland-Garros 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

When Corentin Moutet was growing up, he imitated everything that his childhood hero Rafael Nadal did, from modelling his own lefty serve on the Spaniard’s to wearing his 2005 Roland-Garros-winning sleeveless shirt to bed.

On Wednesday night, his lifelong dream of playing Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier finally came true, but it quickly turned into a nightmare as the 13-time champion cruised to a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory in just over two hours.

Nadal extended his record against French opponents to 10-0 at Roland-Garros, and clinched the 300th Grand Slam win of his career to reach the third round.

Story of the match

Sometimes the story of a match can be summed up in just a few games. For 23-year-old Moutet, the crucial stretch came at the end of the third set.

Moutet, who knocked out the 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in the opening round, had made a solid start against the 21-time Grand Slam winner, staying with Nadal through the early stretches of the opening set.

Just one break of serve separated the two lefties, and although Nadal had opened up a 3-0 lead the Frenchman was determined to not let him run away with it.

It only took Nadal a few games to find his range and he was soon pulling Moutet out of position, ending points with unreturnable, topspin loaded forehands.

Corentin Moutet & Rafael Nadal / Deuxième tour Roland-Garros 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

The normally boisterous support from the fans on Chatrier fell silent and Nadal didn’t give them much to cheer for as he zipped through the first two sets with ease, and without feeling any pressure on his own serve.

But with two sets gone, Moutet charged from his chair at the start of the third before the umpire had even called time.

His renewed energy quickly engaged fans, too, and Moutet was rewarded with his crucial first break point opportunities following a slew of rare errors from Nadal.

By now, any lingering nerves or hero worship from Moutet were long gone and he used his drop shot to great effect to claim the break before consolidating with the help of a few more Nadal unforced errors.

Regardless of how exactly he got to a 2-0 lead against Nadal, the self-belief was back as fans on Chatrier chanted his name.

Nadal, however, was undaunted.

He broke back straight away to bring them level, and his passing shots dealt damage to a net-rushing Moutet as he closed in on the victory.

Now trailing 3-4, Moutet’s hopes were briefly rekindled as the pair traded breaks of serve, looking to extend the match with his childhood idol for another set.  

But Moutet had never quite found the consistency or a higher level that would allow him to keep going toe to toe with Nadal.

The Spaniard’s sublime cross-court dropshot soon set up match point and Nadal claimed the victory after a Moutet lob drifted long.

Nadal will face No.26 seed Botic Van De Zandschulp next.

Key stats

While Moutet is known for his variety of shots, 35-year-old Nadal had no interest in getting into a protracted baseline battle with the 23-year-old.

Instead, he honed in on the Frenchman’s vulnerable second serve and was richly rewarded. Nadal won 61 per cent of points behind Moutet’s second serve – in the second set, Moutet won just one point off that shot – and he maintained an enormous amount of pressure on the Frenchman, who also offered up three double faults as a result.

Nadal generated 12 break point opportunities and converted seven times while dropping his own serve just twice during the tight final set.

He also kept points short, firing 27 winners and winning nearly twice as many rallies between 5-8 shots than Moutet (32 to 19).

What the winner said

Nadal might be the 13-time champion here and the favourite to win most matches he plays at his happiest of hunting grounds, but he is not taking anything for granted this time around.

Gratitude has been the theme for Nadal during this Roland-Garros, and he reiterated that feeling during his post-match interview.

“The last couple of months haven’t been easy, and the beginning of the season has been fantastic, unforgettable and very emotional,” Nadal said.

“After Indian Wells, I had a problem in my rib and I had to be off the court for a while, so it’s day-by-day work and the victories help a lot.

“Playing rallies, winning matches like tonight, it’s so important. It gives me a chance to have another practice tomorrow, and then another match after tomorrow.

“I’m just enjoying the fact that I’m at Roland-Garros, the most important tournament of the year for me.”