Rafael Nadal played and won in his domain at the Bois de Boulogne, where he has collected 13 titles, won 106 duels and has a record run of 39 victories in a row from 2010 to the quarter-finals in 2015.
The Spaniard made a winning start to his 18th appearance at the tournament. Nadal stunned Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.
Just before, the announcer had run out of breath as he recounted the Spaniard’s resume at the French Open.
It was his 299th Grand Slam victory. The one that makes 300 can be achieved on Wednesday against local player Corentin Moutet. Only Roger Federer (369) and Novak Djokovic (323) have reached that magic number.
The clay-court king had warned in the run-up that he was pain-free in his damaged left foot. That’s why he has been doing double training sessions since his arrival in Paris.
He proved it against a lesser opponent who did not demand too many aggressive movements although he did run to drop shots with an apparent freedom.
It had been raining all day in the French capital, but the power plant cleared in time for the Spaniard.
Five of the first six points went to Thompson. Rafa didn’t even flinch because he was warming up. He knew it and so did the crowd, which was packed for the first time to see the eternal champion play.
In the third game came the first break for the champion of 21 majors. The expected. The Australian, 82nd in the ATP ranking, had only won 11 matches on clay as a professional. Nadal now has 468 wins and just 45 losses.
Rafa said he didn’t consider himself the favourite before the tournament began, but his dominance of the event and the surface says otherwise.
He has come in as the fifth seed and only once has he been further back on the starting grid. That was in a tricky year in 2015, when he lost as the sixth seed in the quarter-finals to Djokovic.
Nadal does almost everything perfectly within the four walls of the French Open. He had converted all four of his break points to take a 4-1 lead in the second set.
On the new Philippe Chatrier, one of the side walls reads: “Victory is for the most tenacious”. If there is a winning player, who likes to win and hates to lose, it is himself. It doesn’t matter that he will be 36 years old on 3 June. Thompson had to sweat to win each of his points.
A break against
The former world number one only got tangled up in the sixth game of the second set where four unforced errors cost him the first break against. He shook his head. Immediately after, he knew how to rectify the situation so as not to prolong the outcome of the match with more rain threatening.
The resistance of the Australian lasted until the fifth round of the third set after sinking to his knees in an everlasting exchange that ended with his racquet on the ground.
“I’m happy to get through the first round in three sets. I’m aware that it’s the first match,” Nadal declared in his post-match interview.
“Paris is the most important place in my career, it’s the place where I’ve experienced my greatest emotions.
“The court is spectacular, for me it’s still the same court as always, historic and I’m happy to be part of this history. At my age it’s a gift to be here and I’m going to do everything I can to give myself a chance.”