A relaxed Rafael Nadal strolled into the second round of the French Open with a 6-2 6-2 6-1 victory over Italian Simone Bolelli at Roland Garros today.
The Spaniard is always his own harshest critic and often struggles in the early rounds of grand slams, particularly here last year, when he was two sets to one down against John Isner before winning in five and then going on to lift the title for a sixth time.
There were no such alarms for Nadal today, with his only slightly sticky patch coming when he lost two games in a row from 4-0 in the second set and had to save break points to avoid giving away a third.
Nadal said: “I was less stressed compared with last year. I was a bit frightened, but I think I took control. I felt comfortable.
“I made a mistake when it was 6-2 4-0, and I had a series of good shots. Then I lost control and then it was 4-2. He wanted to break me, but he couldn’t for the third time. Then afterwards I felt really comfortable.
“It’s a court that’s not easy to play on, but the longer you stay on the court, the better it is. You can find your feet. It’s the first week, and I think it’s one of my best first rounds at Roland Garros.
“I hope that in two days I’ll play even better. I’ll do my best so that I can play better. But I’m really satisfied. I feel really good. I didn’t do anything special, that’s true, but I feel really good.”
Nadal, who meets Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin in round two, has had a good season, almost winning a titanic Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic and then picking up his customary clay-court titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.
Last year he came into the French Open having lost four straight finals to Djokovic, including two on clay, and would go on to lose to the Serb at both Wimbledon and the US Open.
Nadal said: “This year things are simpler for me. Before matches, I look forward to them in a different way. I feel fresher than last year. My attitude is more positive.
“Last year my attitude was good, because I wanted to fight for it, but I was perhaps not positive enough. I was not cool tempered enough, whereas this year I’m extremely motivated. I feel a lot better when I’m out on the court.”
Nadal’s compatriot David Ferrer, the sixth seed, is expected to put up a good showing at Roland Garros this year and he began in fine style with a 6-3 6-4 6-1 victory over Lukas Lacko.
Eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic also made it through, although he had a much tougher time against America’s Sam Querrey, the Serb eventually prevailing 2-6 6-4 7-6 (7/3) 6-3, and he was a relieved man after being thoroughly outplayed in the opening set.
He said: “The first set was not really fun for me on the court. He was playing out of his mind, hitting winners from everywhere, playing a little bit outside how you normally should play on clay.
“All credit to him. Everything was going in. I’m happy that I managed to stay positive, stay quiet, not really talk too much when somebody is killing me on the court like he did in the first set.
“The match somehow turned around. When I got the break, I felt I was in control all throughout the rest of the match.”
Talented Frenchman Richard Gasquet, seeded 17th, was given a tough time by Estonian qualifier Jurgen Zopp on Court Philippe Chatrier before coming through 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7/4).
Gasquet next faces Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, who has so far failed to live up to his unenviable tag as the next Roger Federer.
Now 21 and ranked 87th in the world, Dimitrov beat another former junior prodigy, America’s Donald Young, 7-6 (7/3) 6-1 6-1 in the first round.
Gasquet practised with Dimitrov earlier this year, and he said: “Each time I was practising against him, I thought, ’Wow, he’s a big player’. I have to play a big match to beat him because he will be ranked top 10 one of these days I’m certain.”
Spain’s Nicolas Almagro could be a threat in the later stages and the 12th seed began with a 6-3 7-5 6-4 victory over Paolo Lorenzi while 13th seed Juan Monaco saw off Frenchman Guillaume Rufin 6-2 2-6 6-2 7-6 (7/3).
However, 15th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov is out after losing an all-Ukrainian clash with Sergiy Stakhovsky in a five-setter held over from the last night. It was a one-set shoot-out today, which Stakhovsky took to triumph 6-7 (4/7) 6-4 7-6 (7/4) 3-6 6-3.
France’s Jeremy Chardy was in a similar situation and he finally prevailed 6-4 6-1 6-7 (3/7) 3-6 11-9 against Lu Yen-hsun, while seeds Julien Benneteau, Florian Mayer and Mikhail Youzhny are also through.