Touching Nadal gesture is pure class
DEFENDING champion Rafael Nadal easily beat Richard Gasquet once again, reaching the fourth round of the French Open with a crushing 6-3 6-2 6-2 win on Sunday morning (AEST).
Nadal is gaining momentum in his bid for a record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros, and Gasquet never looked remotely like stopping him. He rarely has.
The top-ranked Spaniard inflicted a 16th defeat on Gasquet, who has lost every encounter dating back to 2004, and afterwards dropped an unintended humble brag.
"He's someone I really appreciate," said Nadal, who has been friends with Gasquet since their junior days. "I'm just sorry that he had to play me again here, but that's the sport."
The 27th-seeded Frenchman has not even taken a set off Nadal in 11 straight matches, including this latest one-sided affair. It makes gloomy reading for Gasquet, who quickly trailed 5-0 in sunny conditions on Court Philippe Chatrier.
With clubbing forehands, Nadal streaked ahead 4-0 in the second set and did the same in the third, before Gasquet finally held serve after a long fifth game. A rare highlight for Gasquet was when he earned applause from Nadal following a superb cushioned volley at the net.
A brilliant shot which also summed up Gasquet's career: exquisite talent, including one of the best backhands in tennis, but little end product. Nadal clinched victory on his first match point when Gasquet chopped an errant backhand long.
Moments after hugging Gasquet sympathetically, Nadal was all smiles as he exchanged a couple of rallies with a ball boy to warm applause from the crowd.
During Nadal's on-court interview the presenter told him it was the ball boy's dream to play just one point with the Spaniard, and he happily obliged.
Nadal is chasing a men's singles 17th grand slam title - only Roger Federer has more with 20 - and next faces the unseeded German Maximilian Marterer in their first career meeting.
Nadal is wary of Marterer, who earlier won 6-2 6-1 6-4 against Jurgen Zopp. "He hits the ball with big topspin," Nadal said. "He has power, so he's a dangerous opponent."
With about a week to go, Nadal is looking more and more like the absolute favorite. Of the 16 men left, only he and Schwartzman have yet to drop a set.
Alexander Zverev already has played a pair of five-setters. Novak Djokovic has been shaky at times, too. The only man to beat Nadal on clay this season, Dominic Thiem, couldn't take him on again until the final.
Nadal, who turns 32 on Sunday, employed his usual humility when a reporter raised the popular notion that he's impossible to beat on clay.
"I don't know what the others think. All I know is about me. What I know is I go to the court, and I know that I could very well lose. I can win, I can lose. I don't come here saying, 'You can't win against me,"' the Spaniard said.
"Of course I have won a lot, and it can maybe influence my opponents. But that's their thing. It's their problem."
While Nadal is favourite to defend his title, Maria Sharapova is trying to win it again. She clinched the last of her five majors at the French Open in 2014, having also won here in 2012.
Earlier, she reached the fourth round with a dominant 6-2 6-1 win against Karolina Pliskova.
The 31-year-old Russian, seeded 28th after missing this tournament the last two years, needed 59 minutes to win on Chatrier against the sixth-seeded Czech. Sharapova next faces Serena Williams in what will be their 22nd career meeting.
Top-seeded Simona Halep, last year's runner-up, won 7-5 6-0 against Andrea Petkovic of Germany.
Third-seeded Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, also impressed on Chatrier, needing just over one hour to beat Samantha Stosur of Australia 6-0 6-2. Sloane Stephens advanced too, but the 10th-seeded American had a much more difficult time beating Italy's Camila Giorgi 4-6 6-1 8-6. Stephens next faces Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, who won 7-6 (6) 7-6 (4) against No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova.
No. 7 seed Caroline Garcia gave French fans a boost with a 6-1 6-3 victory against Irina-Camelia Begu.
Unseeded Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko defeated 19th-seeded Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 6-4.
In other men's third-round play, No. 8 David Goffin saved four match points in a 6-7 (6) 6-3 4-6 7-5 6-3 win against Gael Monfils.
Also, unseeded Russian Karen Khachanov completed a 6-3 5-7 6-3 win against 15th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France and next faces No. 2 Alexander Zverev of Germany.
Mischa Zverev couldn't keep up with his younger brother, ending their bid to become the first siblings in 27 years to reach the fourth round at the same grand slam tournament. US Open runner-up Kevin Anderson beat Mischa Zverev 6-1 6-7 (3) 6-3 7-6 (4).
No. 3 Marin Cilic eliminated Steve Johnson of the US 6-3 6-2 6-4. Cilic reached the final at Wimbledon last year and at the Australian Open in January. The big-serving Croat next faces No. 18 Fabio Fognini, who beat Kyle Edmund 6-3 4-6 3-6 6-4 6-4.