Nine time champion Rafael Nadal has progressed to the second round of Roland Garros with an uneventful match against Russia's Andrey Kuznetsov, winning 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. Rafa is under the spotlight during this year's French Open as he looks to win his 10th title, 'La Decima', despite poor form from the start of the year. So far he's rolling through the tournament smoothly, and today was no exception. The pair had met once before, at the 2012 Australian Open, where Nadal won in straight sets.
Rafa's groundstrokes were strong from the start, although a little short, one of his biggest problems this year. However, with the help of some unforced errors from Kuznetsov, he broke serve immediately to lead in the first set. In the second game, it was a little tighter as Kuznetsov attempted to break back with some winners, but ultimately, it was Rafa that came out on top with some confident and well constructed points, finished off with forehand winners. Deeper shots and agility at the net gave him another opportunity to break, which he did quickly to lead 3-0. He was strong when focusing on getting winners down the line, which is a great sign as it shows his confidence. When Rafa's not as confident, he plays a safer option cross court, but today, he was confident and successful, pulling off backhands and forehands close to the line. Deeper returns and impressive passing shots allowed him to take the first set 6-1 in a swift 37 minutes.
Kuznetsov was having trouble keeping up with his opponent as his shots were just not as strong. His serves weren't aggressive enough which didn't give him chances to hold serve. His counterpart dominated at the start of the second set, gaining a double break quickly with some heavy hitting and nice positioning during the longer rallies. During the match, the Spaniard was returning at least two metres back. He has come under criticism so far this season for returning incredibly far back, but today it was certainly the right thing to do. Kuznetsov's serve isn't strong enough to trouble Rafa, so he was able to have plently of time to return powerfully and advance up the court to create winners. The set was straightforward until Rafa had to serve it out. Some unforced errors combined with gutsy play from Kuznetsov allowed the Russian to break back. This more successful game gave him lots more confidence to push Nadal around the court, which he did, consolidating the break. However, it was too little too late for Kuznetsov in set two, as once Rafa had his second chance to serve out the set, he did, holding easily.
The final set was simpler for the defending champion. His approaches to the net continued to push his opponent back and give him so much space to whip a forehand down the line. A stunning inside out 'banana' forehand gave us a glimpse of 'vintage' Rafa. Kuznetsov's level had certainly picked up, but so had Nadal's. The final set was more confident from Rafa. He was taking riskier shots, which impressively, the majority payed off. Nadal managed to grab hold of a double break, which spurred him on the serve out the match quickly and with considerable style.
Despite an abnormally high amount of unforced errors from 6th seed Nadal (25) he played well on the points that counted, making up for any slight drops in level. Although he is not back to his best yet, today's straight set victory is a great sign he's on his way there. In his fourth round match on Monday, Rafa will go up against inspired American Jack Sock, who has been playing some impressive tennis this tournament, including a straight set win against young gun Borna Coric today.