Rafael Nadal is a nine-time champion at the French Open, and yet there was still the subdued sight of empty seats as the Spaniard booked his place in the third round of this year’s competition.
The illustrious Philippe Chatrier court was barely half full as Nadal swept aside Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis in straight sets.
If Nadal is to win a record 10th title on the Parisian clay next week, he would become the first man in history to win one of the four majors on so many occasions.
That may still seem a long way off, especially with the ominous Novak Djokovic lurking in the Spaniard’s section of the draw.
Even so there is more than an inkling that Nadal is better prepared to claim an unprecedented 10th title in the French capital, after he lost to Djokovic in straight sets 12 months ago.
That was only Nadals’s second ever defeat at Roland Garros, but after his recent struggles at the slams - in the past two years - the Spaniard appears to be somewhere near his best again on his favoured clay court.
After dropping just three games against Australian Sam Groth in his opening match, Nadal took down Bagnis in equally emphatic fashion.
For those who did have did have a ticket but weren’t present for Nadal’s 6-3 6-0 6-3 victory over the world number 99, they didn’t miss a contest - instead they missed an exhibition from the man who has dominated in Paris over the past decade and could still do so again.
Promising start from the Argentine
It didn’t always look straightforward as Bagnis, who beat Frenchman Kenny De Schepper in the opening round, raced into a 0-40 lead on Nadal’s opening service game.
After securing the break, the Argentine consolidated it to take a surprise 2-0 lead with a couple of compact ground strokes which extracted some rare errors from Nadal’s racquet.
Yet that was as good as got for Bagnis, who quickly found himself at Nadal’s mercy and was on the ropes for the rest of the contest.
Nadal takes control
Nadal quickly raced through the gears to claw the break back immediately, before a Bagnis error presented him a 4-2 lead a couple of games later.
After failing to win a major for the first time since 2004 last year, Nadal has shown significant signs of improvements and adjustments to his game in the past few months.
The most notable of which is the position he is now taking up when serving from the advantage side of the court, as he has started standing further towards the tram lines.
His backhand, especially down the line, also appears to have had work done to it and it was on show to good effect here.
Tenth title could be on the cards
The only disruption to Nadal’s rhythm came on set point when he was called for a time violation by umpire Pascal Maria, but that didn’t prevent him from serving out the opener a couple of points later.
A break of serve early in the first game of the second didn’t do Bagnis’ challenge any favours, as the early promise which he showed at the start of the match quickly evaporated.
Nadal began to dominate with his destructive forehand, which has been a key component to his success here over the years, and the second set was all one way traffic.
A single break at the start of the third was then enough for Nadal to progress to round three, where he will face either Frenchman Nicolas Mahut or fellow countryman Marcel Granollers.