DAY 3 at the 2021 Roland Garros produced some intriguing results, with two of the top seeds in Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal retaining their winning form with respective straight set wins, while Andrey Rublev‘s Roland Garros run was cut dastardly short.
The world number seven struggled to keep up with German Jan-Lennard Struff early in the three hour and 46 minute first round clash before stealing momentum throughout the third and fourth sets to send the match to a decider. But despite a late challenge, Rublev was too late as Struff heads through to the Round of 64 with the 6-3 7-6 4-6 3-6 6-4 victory in the books.
“I played Andrey twice this year, lost twice in three sets, played twice a very good first set but couldn’t get the job done,” Struff said. “Definitely it’s a huge win for me in a Grand Slam against a top-10 player. Yeah, very, very important.”
The hard-hitting German piled on 25 aces throughout the contest, and despite hitting more unforced errors (55-47) and less winners (63-65) and winning the same amount of overall points (170), Struff was more consistent than Rublev, who was inefficient on serve in comparison.
“I mean, of course I was thinking that I would like to come back from 2-0, but I don’t know, the fifth set I was a bit unlucky,” Rublev said.
“I was feeling fine, I was practising well, I don’t know,” Rublev said. “I think we played a good level today. It’s not easy. He’s a really tough opponent for the first round, really tough, plus he’s playing better and better. He’s improving and he’s winning really great matches.”
For Djokovic and Nadal, their opening rounds were made much easier with the world number one and three claiming wins in straight sets. Djokovic appeared refreshed on court against American Tennys Sandgren, coming straight in off the back of a title in Belgrade over the weekend and not skipping a beat.
“They (Serbian fans) gave me a lot of energy and encouragement,” Djokovic said. “I felt great. I don’t think that I lost a lot of energy there, on the contrary I gained a lot, so hopefully I’ll be able to carry that into this tournament.
“He was close to breaking my serve. I somehow found really a lot of serves when I needed them and that got me out of trouble,” he continued. “Overall I am very pleased with the way I felt on the court tonight.”
Despite a late charge from Australian Alexei Popyrin, Nadal was rarely challenged in his first round matchup, coming from two match points down to dominate in the tiebreaker and claim the 6-3 6-2 7-6 victory in just under two and a half hours. While Popyrin hit six more winners (34-28), he struggled with unforced errors (43-23) with late errors in the third set hurting his chances of stealing a set from the clay court master.
“It’s his court,” said Popyrin, about playing Nadal on the main court Philippe Chatrier. “It will always be his court. I think it’s his favourite court to play on. And to nearly get a set out of him playing my first time on that court is a good achievement for me, but I’m still disappointed with it.”
“Here, especially on clay, the matches are best-of-five, the matches are long and it’s difficult to hold that kind of level for such a long time, playing with this kind of risk,” Nadal said. “Of course I don’t want to lose the set at all, but that’s part of the game.”
“You face a player that he’s decided to go for every shot, so you are in trouble. If he’s having success like he did with his serve, then it’s difficult to have breaks, and then you are in a tricky position.”
“With this serve, with this kind of shots from the baseline, you have everything to become a top player,” said Nadal. “If he wants to do it, of course he is going to have his chances, because he has a lot of very difficult things in his game… He has everything to become a fantastic player.”
Where Popyrin was unsuccessful, his 21st seed compatriot and top ranked Australian Alex de Minaur dominated his own contest with Italian Stefano Travaglia, staving off a third set comeback in much the same way as Nadal to claim a 6-2 6-4 7-6 victory. Travaglia had a number of compatriots playing on Day 3, joined on the sideline by Salvatore Caruso – who fell to another Australian James Duckworth in five – while the second round entrants were headlined by top-ranked Italian Matteo Berrettini, Andreas Seppi and Marco Cecchinato.
Joining Rublev on the sidelines is 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and 29th seed Frenchman Ugo Humbert, who was one of five hometown hopefuls to go down. Canadian Auger-Aliassime fell to veteran Seppi, who won his first match at the Roland Garros in four years and first tour-level match for 2021 in the process. Humbert was joined on the sidelines by wildcards Hugo Gaston and Benjamin Bonzi, as well as Adrian Mannarino and Lucas Pouille who both failed to pull off wins. Comparatively, 14th seed Gael Monfils and unseeded Richard Gasquet head through to the second round, with the former coming from a first set deficit to win in four over Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas, as the latter disposed of compatriot Gaston.
Tenth and 24th seeds Diego Schwartzman and Aslan Karatsev both joined the winners list, as Schwartzman’s Argentinian compatriot Federico Coria also found success in the first round, and was one of four players to dispose of a Spaniard. Just Nadal made it through to represent the nation in the second round, as Coria disposed of Feliciano Lopez, while Philipp Kohlschreiber and Mikael Ymer claimed victories over Fernando Verdasco and Roberto Carballes Baena, respectively. The final winner for the day was Korean Soonwoo Kwon, who escaped with a three hour and nine minute victory over hard-hitter Kevin Anderson, who piled on a whopping 30 aces throughout the 7-5 6-4 2-6 7-6 contest.
ROLAND GARROS ROUND OF 128 RESULTS:
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) defeated Tennys Sandgren (USA) 6-2 6-4 6-2
 Rafael Nadal (ESP) defeated Alexei Popyrin (AUS) 6-3 6-2 7-6
Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) defeated  Andrey Rublev (RUS) 6-3 7-6 4-6 3-6 6-4
 Matteo Berrettini (ITA) defeated [Q] Taro Daniel (JPN) 6-0 6-4 4-6 6-4
 Diego Schwartzman (ARG) defeated [PR] Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE) 6-2 6-2 6-3
 Gael Monfils (FRA) defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP) 1-6 7-6 6-4 6-4
Andreas Seppi (ITA) defeated  Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) 6-3 7-6 4-6 6-4
 Alex de Minaur (AUS) defeated Stefano Travaglia (ITA) 6-2 6-4 7-6
 Aslan Karatsev (RUS) defeated [Q] Jenson Brooksby (USA) 6-3 6-4 6-4
Ricardas Berankis (LTU) defeated  Ugo Humbert (FRA) 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4
Facundo Bagnis (ARG) defeated [WC] Benjamin Bonzi (FRA) 7-5 6-3 6-4
Aljaz Bedene (SLO) defeated Adrian Mannarino (FRA) 7-5 3-6 7-5 6-2
Marco Cecchinato (ITA) defeated Yasutaka Uchiyama (JPN) 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-4
Federico Coria (ARG) defeated Feliciano Lopez (ESP) 6-3 7-6 6-2
Pablo Cuevas (URU) defeated Lucas Pouille (FRA) 6-3 6-1 6-3
James Duckworth (AUS) defeated Salvatore Caruso (ITA) 6-4 3-6 7-6 6-2
Richard Gasquet (FRA) defeated [WC] Hugo Gaston (FRA) 6-1 6-4 6-2
[PR] Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) defeated Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 7-6 6-2 2-6 7-6
Soonwoo Kwon (KOR) defeated Kevin Anderson (RSA) 7-5 6-4 2-6 7-6
Mikael Ymer (SWE) defeated Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP) 6-4 0-6 4-6 6-2 6-2
Picture credit: Nicolas Gouhier/FFT