By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – A dominant Rafa Nada reached one career milestone on Thursday but the nature of the Spaniard’s passage through the early rounds of the French Open suggests his eyes are fixed firmly on another more significant landmark.
The world number five, seeded four at the tournament he once owned, destroyed Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis 6-3 6-0 6-3 to reach the third round with the loss of only nine games, chalking up a 200th match victory in grand slams.
“That’s only another number and that’s it,” Nadal, who would become the only man to win the same grand slam 10 times in the professional era if he triumphs this year, told reporters.
“I know I have to play at a very high level in order to go deep. That’s my sole objective, my only reality.”
It was his first appearance on Court Philippe Chatrier, where he has sunk his teeth into La Coupe des Mousquetaires nine times, since being humbled by Novak Djokovic in a one-sided quarter-final last year.
World number one Djokovic, who dispatched Belgian qualifier Steve Darcis 7-5 6-3 6-4, will be a formidable obstacle again.
Djokovic, who has a burning desire to claim the only grand slam title to elude him, was, however, critical of his performance against a player nicknamed The Shark.
“There were things that I definitely didn’t like in my game today. Too many unforced errors,” Djokovic, who next plays Slovenian-born Briton Aljaz Bedene, told reporters.
Defending women’s champions Serena Williams was joined by sister Venus in the third round, the American siblings posting symmetrical victories on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Serena beat Brazil’s Teliana Pereira 6-2 6-1 before ninth seed Venus produced the same result against fellow American Louisa Chirico to reach the third round for the first time since 2010.
With Maria Sharapova suspended, pending the outcome of a doping hearing, and several leading seeds knocked out early, Serena looms as the overwhelming favourite to claim a fourth title in the French capital.
But others will have something to say about that.
Former champion Ana Ivanovic is a possible last-16 opponent and the Serbian 14th seed looked in good form as she belted 22 forehand winners in a 7-5 6-1 defeat of Japan’s Kurumi Nara.
Prospective last-eight opponent Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, seeded 12th, beat China’s Wang Qiang 6-1 6-3 while eighth seed Timea Bacsinszky survived a tricky second round against 2014 runner-up Eugenie Bouchard 6-4 6-4.
Bouchard, who has slumped down the rankings after reaching number five in 2014, led 4-1, then lost 10 games in a row before mounting a late comeback attempt.
“The brain is like a muscle. You got to work it out,” Bouchard, tipped as the new queen of tennis not so long ago, said of her ongoing battle to rediscover the mental strength needed to survive in the higher echelons.
Only one women’s seed fell on Thursday, number 28 Andrea Petkovic who was beaten by Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.
Five Frenchmen set out to reach the third round on day five but only one succeeded in joining the three already there.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seeded six, did so to the delight of a noisy crowd, although he did it the hard way, coming from two sets down to beat mercurial Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 6-7(6) 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 and notch a 100th grand slam win.
“It’s an anecdote, it’s a number. The match itself is something I’ll remember, because to recover after two sets to zero, it’s not something you do daily,” Tsonga said.
Seventh seed Tomas Berdych, like Tsonga a former semi-finalist here, beat Tunisian Malek Jaziri 6-1 2-6 6-2 6-4 while 12th seed David Goffin and 13th seed Dominic Thiem, both advanced in straight sets.
Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev, two 19-year-olds billed as the next big things, reached the third round with Coric surprising Australia’s 20th seed Bernard Tomic 3-6 6-2 7-6(4) 7-6(6) and Zverev seeing off Frenchman Stephane Robert.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
Copyright 2016 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.