Nadal cruises into French Open last 16 as new kids emerge

PARIS: Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning against Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos at the end of their men’s singles third round tennis match on Day 6 of The Roland Garros. – AFP

PARIS: Rafael Nadal charged into the French Open last 16 on Friday and took another confident stride towards equaling Roger Federer’s record of 20 major titles while a crop of rising youngsters offered tantalizing glimpses of their potential. The 12-time Roland Garros champion dispatched Italian world number 74 Stefano Travaglia 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 in just 95 minutes, notching his 96th victory at the tournament.

“I think today I played the best match this year at Roland Garros,” said Nadal. Nadal next faces 213th-ranked American qualifier Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion and 1992 French Open runner-up Petr Korda, for a quarter-final spot. “He’s my biggest idol. He’s one of the reasons I play tennis,” Korda said of the Spaniard. “Growing up, I named my cat Rafa after him. That says a lot about how much I love the guy.”

The 20-year-old Korda beat Pedro Martinez in straight sets to become the first man outside the top 200 to make the last 16 in Paris since France’s Arnaud di Pasquale in 2002. Hugo Gaston, also 20, quickly became the second such lowly-ranked man in the fourth round when the world number 239 shocked 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 in a rain-interrupted tie. Gaston goes on to play US Open winner and Austrian third seed Dominic Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in Paris the past two years. “It’s amazing for me, it’s a dream. But I try to stay focused,” said Gaston, the lone Frenchman remaining in the draw. “I’m feeling tired with the adrenaline rush but I still have some gas.”

“I’m not going to put pressure on myself and will try to play relaxed like I did today,” he added. At 19, Italian teenager Jannik Sinner is the youngest player to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros since Novak Djokovic in 2006. Last year’s Next Gen champion made the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time by beating Federico Coria 6-3, 7-5, 7-5. He will meet the US Open runner-up Alexander Zverev after the German sixth seed ended the run of qualifier and 2018 semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato in three sets. “I’m just trying to improve day after day,” said the 75th-ranked Sinner, who is yet to drop a set in Paris.

Halep gets revenge
Top seed and title favorite Simona Halep, the 2018 champion, avenged last year’s Roland Garros loss to Amanda Anisimova by thrashing the American teenager 6-0, 6-1 in only 54 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champion made only seven unforced errors as she stretched her career-best winning run to 17 matches. “I think I played a really good match. I was very aggressive and I knew from last year I had to change something and I did that today,” said Halep. “I took the game in my hands.” Halep meets another 19-year-old opponent, Poland’s Iga Swiatek, for a place in the quarter-finals. She dropped just one game when the pair met here in the last 16 a year ago.

Halep’s status as the women’s frontrunner was reinforced following the withdrawal of Serena Williams, on top of the absence of world number one and defending champion Ashleigh Barty, as well as US Open winner Naomi Osaka. “I don’t feel the pressure. Of course I expect from myself to play good tennis but that doesn’t mean I have to win every match,” said Halep. “I just want to try to take my chance every time I step on the court, and I’m not thinking about title. It’s very far (off).” Thiem made surprisingly short work of Norwegian 28th seed Casper Ruud, who has won more tour-level matches on clay than anyone else this season.

“In general I was super happy with my performance. I think was one of the best ones this year,” said Thiem following an impressive 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 victory. Two-time quarter-finalist Elina Svitolina ensured she will stick around for the second week with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, the 27th seed. Svitolina will next play home hope Caroline Garcia, who upset 16th seed Elise Mertens 1-6, 6-4, 7-5. Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego edged a 36-point tiebreak against Taylor Fritz to complete a 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, 7-6 (19/17) victory. Fifth seed Kiki Bertens eased aside Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 6-2, moving swiftly on from her stormy win over Sara Errani in the previous round.- AFP

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