Barty out with injury, Sloane impresses and normal service for Rafa & Nole – Day 5 Roland Garros 2021.

Rafa and Nole were once again absolutely relentless. Nadal showed no signs of slowing down in his one-way record against Richard Gasquet that now includes 29 consecutive sets against the Frenchman. There was a point in the second where Gasquet made a little bit of a fight of it but there was never really any worries. Gasquet said ” It is a brutal experience to play Nadal. There is no one who plays like him. I’ve never seen anything like this in history, with such a powerful forehand”. I personally thought it was a little unfair they had Nadal playing on the evening session on his birthday but it didn’t take too long. Djokovic produced a good serving performance against the Wiley campaigner that is Pablo Cuevas. This could have been nasty against such an experienced clay courter and the Uruguyan played well, Nole was just far too good. Mischa Zverev was saying how Nole played last week to basically get himself into the mood for these two weeks, a three week French Open if you like. Rafa will play Cam Norrie next after the Brit continued his fine clay-court form, this time beating Lloyd Harris. I am pleased for Nozza, he often goes under the radar and his hard work deserves this. Hopefully, he can give Rafa a good test. Federer also progressed with a four-set win over Marin Cilic. I saw a Fed quote after “I still believe there is no way I am going to go super deep here or go past the Novak section. My season starts when the grass-court season comes around.” That doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

It was another good day for the Italians. Matteo Berrettini overpowered Federico Coria, Lorenzo Musetti avenged defeat to Yoshihito Nishioka last week in Parma and Jannik Sinner won the battle of the Italians against Gianluca Mager. Sinner was notably improved after struggling in the first round against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Marco Cecchinato completed the four-fold with an impressive win over Alex De Minaur. We know this isn’t the Aussie’s favourite surface but he had played well in his opener. Cecchinato is now being described as an ‘RG specialist’ as he worked that backhand like three years ago. In fact, the only Italian to lose in the men’s was Andreas Seppi (to Soon-Woo Kwon). Other winners included Diego Schwartzman who looks much more confident all of a sudden. El Peque comfortably disposing of Aljaz Bedene and attributing his upturn in fortunes to playing the Nice exhibition in the leadup to Paris. 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz continued his run from qualifying, taking out the 28th seeded, Nikoloz Basilashvili in straights. I was really impressed with how he was serving to close the match out. There was sad news for Gael Monfils though, he was bageled by Mikael Ymer in the first set and it looked like he might pull out when he called for the trainer. Gael managed to win the second with the crowd once again playing their part but Ymer came through in four. I read his comments after and he seems pretty down on himself again. It is clear he wants to get back to where he believes he should be. Back-to-back third round at the slams for the Swede though.

The writing was probably on the wall for top-seed, Ash Barty, who didn’t look physically fit in her opener and it didn’t get any better yesterday. It came as no great surprise she pulled out a set down against Magda Linette with the left hip injury. Barty remained pretty tight-lipped on it after and won’t give too much away. It was also not a great day for Karolina Pliskova. She was pretty much always trailing Sloane Stephens and when the American finally took the first set the match went very quickly. Sloane played very well here though. She has been through a lot losing three Grandparents to COVID and it is nice to see her playing well again, with that intensity she can bring.

Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff marched on. Swiatek hasn’t really been tested yet, she walloped Rebecca Peterson in all honesty and was playing well within herself. Anett Konatveit should be a far sterner test next but with how she is playing she will expect to get through reasonably comfortably, though when I looked at the betting she was 1/6. I am not that confident! It says a lot about how highly rated she is. Coco had to come from behind in the second but played a fantastic breaker including a Worldy of a match point against Qiang Wang, to beat her twice in a week. This was one of those days where she is learning to get the job done, it wasn’t her best but it was good enough and that is all that matters.

Elise Mertens struggled with her game early on but beat Zarina Diyas in a decider and Elina Svitolina had to come from an early blip in the second set to take out Anna Li in straights. Maria Sakkari had fewer problems beating Jasmine Paolini, she had far too much power and took advantage of the weaker second serve of the Italian. Also through are Sofia Kenin who looked more like her old self in beating Hailey Baptiste and Marta Kostyuk backed up her win over Garbine Muguruza with a win over Saisai Zheng. Ons Jabeur beat Astra Sharma having lost to her in the Charleston final earlier in the year and Jennifer Brady just about got over the line against Fiona Ferro, 7/5 in the decider. Ferro made the last 16 in 2020.

Andy Del Potro (Al Davies).

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