Roland Garros: Rafael Nadal breezes past Alexei Popyrin in first round

Popyrin did hold the advantage in the third set, as he led 5-2, but Nadal pulled it back to 5-5 before ending the match in a tie-breaker.

Rafael Nadal in a file photo. (Image: Twitter/Roland Garros)

Rafael Nadal comfortably won his first match of the 2021 Roland Garros as he breezed past unseeded Australian tennis player Alexei Popyrin. The match was played at the iconic Philippe Chatrier Court and the King of Clay lived up to his name. Nadal beat Popyrin 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 to advance to the next round. The Spaniard was not at his absolute best, nor would he have hoped to play his best tennis in the first round. The audience was treated to glimpses of the great Nadal but it was a fairly easy victory for him in the end. The Australian did hold the advantage in the third set, as he led 5-2, but Nadal managed to pull it back to 5-5 before ending the match after a one-sided tie-breaker.

Both players conceded five double faults each and Popyrin scored one ace more than his opponent. However, the Australian had trouble with overhead shots as that proved to be somewhat of his downfall in the final set. He missed a golden opportunity to take the advantage at the end of the third set, before the tie-breaker, but his overhead smash was not correctly measured and it flew out of Nadal’s court. The Spaniard, on the other hand, displayed pinpoint precision when he made a similar shot a few moments afterwards.


It was a commendable fightback from the Aussie who managed to push a set to its limit against a veteran like Nadal. Popyrin’s serves were powerful, as admitted by Nadal in the post-match press conference, and his backhand shots also seemed pretty good. He received a standing ovation from the crowd as he made his way out of the court after the match.

The Spaniard won four out of 11 break points while the Australian could only manage one out of four. Nadal had an 81% win percentage on the first serve compared to Popyrin’s 78%, and 66% on the second serve to 52%. Popyrin had grown frustrated as the game went on and he was vocal about his dissatisfaction.

By the time the tie-breaker came along, it seemed as though Popyrin could take the set. He had played brilliantly to tie the set and had a lot of momentum going into the tie-breaker. In 2021, Popyrin had an 18-5 record in tie-breakers whereas the Spaniard was 1-2. However, it was Nadal who utterly dominated and won it 7-3 to win the match. He will face Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the next round.

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