On a day where one of his top rivals was pushed all the way to the brink of disaster, Rafael Nadal could not have wished for a smother start to his attempt to win back the French Open title. The nine-time champion at Roland Garros lost just three games en route to an emphatic victory over world No. 100 Sam Groth in the first round.
As an illustration of the potential pitfalls that can lie in wait in the opening round of a Grand Slam, Nadal had only to look at second seed Andy Murray, who required five sets to get past the wily veteran Radek Stepanek. But from early on in his match on Tuesday, it was clear that there would be no such complications for Nadal.
Rather than the main Philippe Chatrier Court which Nadal has made his second home since first arriving at Roland Garros back in 2005, Nadal was tasked with playing on the smaller Suzanne-Lenglen Court, perhaps a symbol of the Spaniard’s struggles for much of the last two years. But bumped up to No. 4 seed after the withdrawal of Roger Federer and fresh from winning the clay-court events in Monte Carlo and Barcelona leading into Paris, there is no doubting that Nadal is a real threat to get title No. 10 in 2016.
His performance on Tuesday certainly did nothing to alter that perspective. Nadal made just three unforced errors and lost only five points on serve through the entire match, which lasted just 80 minutes. The famed big serve of his Australian opponent was neutralized in part by the cold conditions as well as the slower clay court. Groth, too, arrived in Paris having endured a poor year punctuated by injury.
For Groth, the odds of an upset were not exactly encouraging, given that he had never won a match at Roland Garros and only ever won a single match at tour level on clay. Making 28 unforced errors and winning just 13-of-39 points at net, it was never going to be the serve-and-volleyer’s day.
Nadal now goes onto meet Argentine Facuno Bagnis, who defeated Dutchman Kenny de Schepper in straight sets in his first round, also played on Tuesday. Nadal and Bagnis, ranked No.99 in the world, have never previously faced off.