Nadal v Thompson: Things we learned

The 13-time champion is the first man to notch 106 Grand Slam match-wins in Paris

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

No.5 seed Rafael Nadal has hit the ground running in his first major outing as sole owner of the most Grand Slam singles crowns.

That’s no mean feat, given he limped out of his previous clay-court event in Rome.

The 13-time champion in Paris dispelled any doubts about his fitness in a commanding 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 win over Australian Jordan Thompson on Monday.

Here’s what we learned about the Spaniard’s first-round victory.

Nadal still in it to win it

Seventeen years ago to the day, an 18-year-old Nadal strode on to the now demolished Bullring to face German Lars Burgsmuller.

It was his first match at Roland-Garros and seven matches later was handed his first Grand Slam silverware.

His opponent from that day in 2005 is now a radiologist with three children.

Testament to his extraordinary longevity, Nadal is the most recent major champion with grand ambitions of adding a 22nd this fortnight.

His 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-1 triumph over Burgsmuller was the first of his now 106 match wins on the clay in Paris, drawing him level with Serena Williams’ US Open tally and clear of Roger Federer’s 105 at Wimbledon.

Only Martina Navratilova stands clear with 120 singles victories at the All England Club.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Spaniard finds his feet

Nadal arrived with only three wins from five matches on his most prosperous surface leading in.

He bowed to Spain’s heir apparent, Carlos Alcaraz, in three sets in the Madrid quarter-finals before a recurring foot complaint flared up in Rome and heavily impaired him during a round of 16 defeat to Denis Shapovalov.

The 35-year-old answered any lingering questions about his foot and declared himself fit and up for the fight on the eve of his 18th straight Paris title tilt.

There was never any hint of a problem with his wheels in his first match on Court Philippe-Chatrier since Djokovic ended his title defence in the semi-finals last June.

While Thompson consistently kept rallies alive with his fleet-footed scrambling, the deeper the points wore on, the fewer answers he had.

Efficiency serves fifth seed well

Nadal pushed the world No.82 deep, wide and every which way, deploying a healthy mix of drop shots once he had dragged his challenger into the neighbouring arrondissement.

He was in complete control back in his domain.

When he brought up triple set point on a curling forehand down the line, Thompson shrugged at his box, an acknowledgement of the level he was up against.

Nadal needed no second invitation when opportunities arose as he converted all five break points on his way to a two-set lead.

It took Thompson’s 11th forehand winner to fend off a sixth at 2-all in the third, but after losing a brutal 32-shot rally he was still broken.

No comfort in green and gold

This loomed as an almighty mountain to scale for Thompson.

The Sydney-sider’s sole victory over a top-10 rival in 11 encounters came against then No.1 Andy Murray in the first round at Queen’s Club five years ago.

Squaring off against a 13-time Roland-Garros champion on his most treasured stage was an entirely different prospect.

The 28-year-old – who sports an Australian Olympic tattoo on his bicep – could well have been walking onto court with an Olympic teammate given his opponent’s green and gold attire.

It was scant comfort when staring down his opponent’s end.

Nadal had claimed the honours in the pair’s only prior meeting, at the 2020 Paris Masters, and allowed him one game less this time around.

300 on the line

Moments before Nadal closed out the contest in little more than two hours, Frenchman Corentin Moutet ended 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka’s campaign.

The world No.139’s triumph set a first-time showdown with the 21-time major winner and a shot at denying the Spaniard his 300th Grand Slam match win.

As ruthless as Nadal was on Monday, victory came with a warning for his prospective opponent.

“I’m conscious of the fact that there is still a margin for improvement and I have to take it step by step,” Nadal said. “We’ll keep working, tomorrow is a day for practice and I’m confident I’ll be better after tomorrow.

“This is the most important court of my career… What I need to do is to try look forward, to practise a little bit better every day, and capitalise on the opportunity I’ve been given. It’s a gift for me that I am able to compete here once again at Roland-Garros.”

Rafael Nadal, 1er tour, Roland-Garros 2022©Cedric Lecocq / FFT