AN enticing Round of 16 is set at the 2021 Roland Garros tournament, with the men’s draw completing its Round of 32 yesterday boasting six seeded wins and little doubt in the top players’ ability to continue their runs. Meanwhile, two Italian teens joined a seeded compatriot in the fourth round.
It was a predictable day for world number one Novak Djokovic and dominant clay champion Rafael Nadal, with the duo both claiming straight set victories to head into the Round of 16. Djokovic required over an hour and a half to dispose of Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis 6-1 6-4 6-1, as Nadal took slightly more time, just over two hours, to defeat Brit Cameron Norrie. In doing so, he advances to the fourth round at a grand slam for the 50th time.
“Today I had in front [of me] a player [who is] having a great season,” Nadal said. “I went on court knowing that could be a tough match, and for moments [it was] like this. I’m happy to win in straight sets. I think I did what I had to do. For moments, I played well. I think [I played] a good first set. Then for moments I need to do things better, but I am confident that I can do it.”
“I don’t think I [was] returning unbelievable today,” Nadal said. “I just returned okay. But then I was solid from the baseline to put one more ball in and to make him play.”
Nadal will take on one of two up-and-coming teenaged Italians that have made it to the Round of 16, following 18th seed Jannik Sinner‘s defeat of Swede Mikael Ymer 6-1 7-5 6-3 to have a chance at opposing the Spaniard once more. The two met during the quarter finals here last year, with the clay champion reigning supreme on his way to the 2020 title. The second in Lorenzo Musetti claimed his maiden five set 3-6 6-4 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory over compatriot Marco Cecchinato to head into the fourth round, but has a just as daunting task set as he looks toward a clash with world number one, Djokovic.
“We know each other a little bit. [We] never played [a match] and it’s going to be the first time, [which is big], especially in a Grand Slam,” Musetti said about taking on Djokovic. “So for sure there is going to be a little bit of tension, but I think that is what I’ve been working for since my childhood. All the sacrifice and hard work I did in my childhood became reality now. So I’m just enjoying the moment and I will try to do my best.”
Meanwhile, Roger Federer overcame a hungry Dominik Koepfer to head into the fourth round, denying the German left-hander a chance at a second week berth. In different conditions – his maiden Roland Garros night session, and with no spectators due to a COVID-19 warranted curfew – Federer had the class to outdo Koepfer and claim the 7-6 6-7 7-6 7-5 win in three hours and 35 minutes.
“My fighting spirit got me over the line,” Federer said. “You’ve got to love what you do, and I do.”
“I probably would have struggled a great deal (without spectators) when I was a teenager or a young player, because for me, practice was not really what I loved doing at all. I actually really disliked it, and for me it was all about the matches and atmosphere and playing for something.”
“I wasn’t sure after the second set how much was left in the tank, so it was a good battle until then,” Federer said. “I feel like I needed to maybe pace myself ever so slightly at that moment, especially emotionally, of not pressing too hard and wanting it too badly.”
“I clearly hadn’t practiced three hours 35, because that’s obviously always pushing it. I pushed as much as I could, as we thought reasonable. But this today was a huge step forward for the team, and for all of us. I didn’t expect to be able to win three matches here,” he added.
“Roger is Roger,” Koepfer told German press after the match. “Unbelievable what he does at the age of 39. He plays very good tennis and is incredibly fit. He played better in the deciding moments.”
Ninth seed Italian Matteo Berrettini was also victorious, rounding out the Italian winners to three following his sweep of Korean Soonwoo Kwon, as 10th seed Diego Schwartzman downed another German in Philipp Kohlschreiber, while Jan-Lennard Struff turned the German tides with his 6-4 7-6 6-2 sweep of Spanish qualifier Carlos Alcaraz, putting an end to the teenager’s sensational run.
ROLAND GARROS ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) defeated Ricardas Berankis (LTU) 6-1 6-4 6-1
 Rafael Nadal (ESP) defeated Cameron Norrie (GBR) 6-3 6-3 6-3
 Roger Federer (SUI) defeated Dominik Koepfer (GER) 7-6 6-7 7-6 7-5
 Matteo Berrettini (ITA) defeated Soonwoo Kwon (KOR) 7-6 6-3 6-4
 Diego Schwartzman (ARG) defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) 6-4 6-3 6-1
 Jannik Sinner (ITA) defeated Mikael Ymer (SWE) 6-1 7-5 6-3
Lorenzo Musetti (ITA) defeated Marco Cecchinato (ITA) 3-6 6-4 6-3 3-6 6-3
Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) defeated [Q] Carlos Alcaraz 6-4 7-6 6-2
Picture credit: Philippe Montigny/FFT