Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

Nadal mulls game's future

PARIS — Shortly after winning for the 61st time in his 62nd match on the red clay at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal took a moment to look at the future of tennis.

And the top-seeded Spaniard doesn't see himself in the picture. Or Roger Federer. Or Novak Djokovic. Or Andy Murray.

True, Nadal advanced to the third round of the French Open on Thursday, beating a 20-year-old Austrian in straight sets. But it's that same 20-year-old Austrian, Dominic Thiem, who is one of the men who could start winning the major titles that have been so elusive to almost everyone outside that famous quartet.

Together, they have won 34 of the last 36 Grand Slam titles.

But, to drive home his point, Nadal notes he's almost 28 while Djokovic and Murray are 27 and Federer is "I don't know, 32."

"(We're) not going to be here for 10 more years," he said.

The eight-time French Open champion followed that last statement with a chuckle, probably because he quickly realized how ridiculous that kind of prognostication sounds after his 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over Thiem.

It was, however, quite a contest on Court Philippe Chatrier, the main stadium at Roland Garros and Nadal's favorite place to play.

Thiem broke Nadal's serve twice, once in the first set and once in the third. The first time, Nadal was serving for the set at 5-1 and leading 40-30, but Thiem hit three straight thundering shots into the same corner, the first a backhand the next two forehands, to make it 5-2.

"He has very powerful shots," said Nadal, who can become the first man in history to win five straight French titles. "Very powerful forehand and good backhand, too."

Good, for sure, but not yet good enough to take down Nadal.

"It's really important to play against these guys a lot, against these top guys because it's more important than every practice," said Thiem, playing in only his second Grand Slam tournament. "I hope I can take a lot with me from this match."

The three other old-timers have also reached the third round, with Murray beating Marinko Matosevic 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. Despite the lopsided score, Murray still had to work to keep himself sharp, at times chastising himself out loud for all to hear.

"From a player's perspective … the beginning of sets are very important to try and get ahead whilst the opponent's head is down a little bit," Murray said. "I was just trying to make sure that my intensity was there every moment, especially at the beginning of the sets. I managed to get ahead early in all of them, and that helped."

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