Rafael Nadal’s French Open reign is safe for now

Defending champion Rafael Nadal celebrates his victory over Argentina's Leonardo Mayer. Picture: Getty
Defending champion Rafael Nadal celebrates his victory over Argentina's Leonardo Mayer. Picture: Getty
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Rafa Nadal put down an attempted coup at the French Open as the eight-times champion saw off Argentine Leonardo Mayer 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the fourth round in commanding fashion yesterday.

Mayer went for his shots in a tense second set and broke the world No.1 back for 4-4, only for the Spaniard to show why he is still the man to beat in Paris.

“It is for me very emotional thing when I am on [court Philippe] Chatrier, a lot of memories come to my mind,” said Nadal, who made only ten unforced errors with just two coming in a masterful opening set.

One moment that may live long in the memory occurred in the second set when the defending champion recovered after being wrongfooted by Mayer to pull off a perfect backhand lob to break decisively for a 6-5 lead.

He followed up with a game to love, sealing the set with a jaw-dropping forehand passing shot before steaming through the third and ­ending the contest with a service winner.

Nadal, however, revealed he was suffering from back pains, although he refused to elaborate when quizzed on the matter.

“Well, I’d rather not talk about my back. I’ve reached week number two. I’ll do my best. I’ll play as best as I can,” he said afterwards.

“I’ll put up a good fight to try to win. You know, my back is not that important. It’s not that important, because I wouldn’t really like to give you too many details.”

While pleased with his performances so far at Roland Garros, Nadal is definitely not happy about being told he takes too long to serve.

The eight-times French Open champion’s pre-serve routine seems to get more extended every time he appears at the tournament and Pascal Maria, the chair umpire yesterday, takes a hard line on how long it all takes.

A rule introduced in 2013 sets a time limit of 25 seconds for a player to serve. Nadal was called twice by Maria during a match in Monte Carlo in April and again yesterday.

“After the warning I frowned a ­little and then I continued, I accepted,” Nadal said. “Sometimes I think that this is fair, because it’s true to say that I’m slow. So these warnings are fair. But today, no.

“With this judge, there are always one or two warnings with him, and this is the way it is. I have to accept it.”

Nadal said he decided he could not afford to take his towel from a ball boy to wipe away the sweat on a sunny Philippe Chatrier court in case he got into trouble with Maria.

“When Pascal is here I don’t even take my towel, otherwise it’s too long,” the Spaniard added.

“I don’t see sport this way, but there are rules. There are rules that we have to comply with.

“It is strange, because we have a framework of rules, but with him I always have problems, always there is more pressure than usual.”

Nadal believes umpires should be flexible when the server faces a break point. Players serving receive a warning on the first call, and for subsequent calls lose a serve.

“There are umpires who know how to interpret rules better than others, whereas others follow very strictly all the rules and they’ll use the timer. They really are a timekeeper.

“I think the best thing would be to have a big clock with a countdown on the court, and then when there are no more seconds to go, we would have to serve.

“But, again, I think that tennis is a sport where we should be able to think. This is really truly what I think: It’s physical; it’s mental; there are strategies. Otherwise, you know, it’s just about keeping an eye on the clock.”

Nadal next faces Serbian Dusan Lajovic, who beat American Jack Sock 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 and also has yet to drop a set. Should he prevail, he could face compatriot David Ferrer in the quarter-final, the man he beat to claim last year’s title and one of three men to have beaten him on the red dust this season.

The fifth-seeded Ferrer continued his stroll through the draw with a 6-2, 7-6(2), 6-3 win against Italian Andreas Seppi.

The much-anticipated clash between home favourite Gael ­Monfils and Fabio Fognini was a predictably wacky five-set affair.

With two of the most flamboyant players meeting, it was a match where anything was possible, and it was Monfils who eventually came out on top 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2.

The pair made 137 unforced errors between them and Monfils recovered to win despite appearing barely able to move in the fourth set because of cramp.

The Italian, meanwhile, was given a point penalty in the third game of the deciding set for throwing his racquet having previously received a warning for swearing.

The crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen lapped up every crazy moment and mass delirium ensued when Fognini missed a forehand to bring the match to an end after three hours and 24 minutes.

Monfils is now through to the fourth round at a grand slam for the first time since booking a spot in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros three years ago.