Originally Published: June 2, 2018 11:07 p.m.
PARIS — Right from the get-go in Court Philippe Chatrier, things were not looking good for Rafael Nadal’s latest French Open foil: The 10-time champion at Roland Garros won the first 12 points against Richard Gasquet.
“I started badly,” Gasquet would say later.
Well, that’s one possible explanation. Another is much simpler. To wit: He was facing the mighty Nadal — winner of all 16 matches this pair has played against each other as professionals — and on red clay, to boot. Nadal eventually lost points, of course, but never really relented in a meaningful way en route to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 third-round victory that was only his latest declaration of dominance on this surface and at this Grand Slam tournament.
“Once he’s ahead,” Gasquet lamented, “it becomes impossible.”
Consider the streaks that the No. 1-ranked Nadal has amassed.
He has won 12 consecutive matches at Roland Garros; the last loss was against Novak Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals.
He has won 34 completed sets in a row, too, which eclipsed his own previous best of 32 and now stands second in French Open history to Bjorn Borg’s 41 from 1979-81.
He is 82-2 for his career at Roland Garros, 107-2 in best-of-five-set clay-court matches anywhere.
“It’s no surprise to anyone,” observed Gasquet, who is not exactly a nobody.
Gasquet was seeded 27th in Paris but has been ranked as high as No. 7 and made it to three Grand Slam semifinals.
Nadal now meets 70th-ranked Maximilian Marterer, a 22-year-old German who will be appearing in the fourth round of a major tournament for the first time.
In classic Nadal fashion, he spoke glowingly of his next opponent.
“He’s a player that has a good potential. He’s a player that has a good serve, good forehand. He hits the ball with big topspin. He has power, so he’s a dangerous opponent,” Nadal said. “He’s playing well. He won very easy today, no?”
Other men’s matchups in the top half of the draw with quarterfinal berths at stake Monday: No. 3 Marin Cilic against No. 18 Fabio Fognini, No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro against No. 9 John Isner, and No. 6 Kevin Anderson against No. 11 Diego Schwartzman.
Isner is the last U.S. man left in the field after eliminating the last man from France, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 7-6 (4). The last year without a Frenchman in the fourth round at Roland Garros was 2007.
On the other side of the bracket, Sunday’s fourth-round matchups are No. 2 Alexander Zverev against Karen Khachanov, No. 7 Dominic Thiem against No. 19 Kei Nishikori, No. 8 David Goffin against Marco Cecchinato, and 12-time major champion Novak Djokovic against No. 30 Fernando Verdasco.
With about a week to go, Nadal is looking more and more like the absolute favorite.
Of the 16 men left, only he and Schwartzman have yet to drop a set.
Zverev already has played a pair of five-setters. Djokovic has been shaky at times, too. The only man to beat Nadal on clay this season, Thiem, couldn’t take him on again until the final.
Nadal, who turns 32 on Sunday, employed his usual humility when a reporter raised the popular notion that he’s impossible to beat on clay.
“I don’t know what the others think. All I know is about me. What I know is I go to the court, and I know that I could very well lose. I can win, I can lose. I don’t come here saying, ‘You can’t win against me,’” the Spaniard said.
“Of course I have won a lot, and it can maybe influence my opponents. But that’s their thing. It’s their problem.”