The French Open begins to really spring into action on day three in Paris, with both the respective world number one’s kicking off their 2016 campaigns at Roland Garros. Another highlight from Tuesday’s schedule is the nine-time champion Rafael Nadal beginning his road to a possible tenth title, with Australia’s Sam Groth the first to attempt to end his hopes of a staggering achievement.
Nadal hunting down ‘La Decima’ at the French Open
World number five Nadal arrives in Paris, looking for an unprecedented ‘La Decima’ at the French Open, having previously won nine times at the only Grand Slam on clay. He looks to be in much better form heading into the event this year, after a disappointing run-up to the tournament in 2015. Last year, the Spaniard only won the title in Buenos Aires before the French Open, but this year has been a vast improvement with titles in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona adding to increased confidence.
In Monte-Carlo, he took advantage of Novak Djokovic exiting early to win his ninth title in the luxurious setting, as he defeated Andy Murray in the semifinals and lifted the title by edging Gael Monfils out in a three-set battle. He faced Murray again in Madrid but was overcome in straight sets, suffering a repeat of their meeting the previous year. Most recently he featured in Rome but lost out to Djokovic in the last eight despite pushing the world number one close in two sets.
Groth back on a clay court
Big Australian Groth will play in the French Open main draw for only the second time in his career, after only making his debut in last year’s edition. Before that, he lost out in the last round of qualifying but was able to enter directly into the draw last year due to holding a high enough ranking. He was seen off in four sets in the first round by Pablo Cuevas, despite winning the first set in a tie-breaker. The 28-year-old has experience of reaching the second week at Roland Garros in the doubles however, going all the way to the semifinals in 2014 with partner Andrey Golubev. This is still the only occasion when he has progressed past the third round at a Grand Slam in either the singles or doubles.
The world number 100 hasn’t played on the ATP tour since the Masters 1000 event at Miami and has not played on clay since the defeat to Cuevas last year. The meeting with Nadal will actually be only his fifth on clay at the ATP tour level, with only one win to show, compared to four wins from nine at the Challenger level.
The pair have never previously met.
Nadal has only ever lost twice at the French Open and has never been beaten before the fourth round so is heavy favorite to win this first round clash. He’s looked in good form in recent months, and his aim every year is to win the title in Paris, so he’ll be desperate to do everything to win another.
His history at this event isn’t the only thing going for him, as Groth hasn’t played on clay for an entire year, clearly not a fan of the surface as his tweet implies here;
His serve would regularly trouble Nadal on a faster surface, but the clay courts of Roland Garros will take some pace off the ball, allowing the Spaniard to get a look-in on nearly every return game. On grass or a quick hard court, a case could be made for the Australian, but on clay, against Nadal, in Paris, it’s impossible to see anything but a comfortable win for the nine-time champion.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in straight sets