Friday, May 25, 2018
Sports

Serve slowed, Nadal powers past back pain

PARIS — The closest thing to drama involving Rafael Nadal on Saturday came after his 31st consecutive French Open victory.

That's when the eight-time champion revealed that a painful back is slowing his serves — and, all in all, giving him more trouble than his opponents have.

For now, leave the on-court theatrics to others. Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, was clutching at aching hamstrings while being taken to 7-all in the fifth set by No. 28 Philipp Kohlschreiber before their third-round match was suspended for fading light.

No. 23 Gael Monfils admitted tanking a set en route to a 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 victory over No. 14 Fabio Fognini, who was docked a point for throwing his racket near a ball boy.

"They make a good show for the crowd," Nadal said. "Long match. Crowd involved. Good for tennis."

Aside from Monfils and Fognini combining for more than twice as many unforced errors (137) as winners (66).

Nadal's play was much cleaner. During his 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win against 65th-ranked Leonardo Mayer of Argentina, the No. 1-seeded Spaniard made 10 unforced errors — two in the first set, three in the second, five in the third.

He has dropped 19 games through three matches.

More worrisome would be his back, which also acted up in January during a loss to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final.

"During my career, I had (a) few problems. … Hopefully it will not be (the) case" the rest of the way in Paris, Nadal said.

Nadal averaged 102 mph on first serves, with a top speed of 114 mph. In Monday's first round he topped out at 122 mph.

Through two matches, Nadal faced five break points and lost serve twice. He dealt with eight break points Saturday, losing two.

The last time Nadal won 31 matches in a row in Paris, he lost in the fourth round in 2009 to Robin Soderling — a defeat that later was blamed, in part, on injured knees. That remains Nadal's lone setback in 63 matches at the tournament.

Next for Nadal is 83rd-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, who beat Jack Sock of the United States 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Another American, Donald Young, lost in five sets to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, leaving Tampa resident John Isner (10) as the last American man.

Women's fourth-round matchups set up after Saturday's action are No. 4 Simona Halep against No. 15 Sloane Stephens, 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova against Lucie Safavora, 2012 runner-up Sara Errani against Jelena Jankovic and Andrea Petkovic against 148th-ranked qualifier Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands.

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