The 1000th was not the easiest. For his comeback to competition three weeks after his 13th title at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal took a long time to find his feet on Wednesday. Far from his best level, the world number 2 was able to make the round back to overthrow his compatriot Feliciano Lopez (4-6, 7-6, 6-4) in two and a half hours of play. But this 1,000th success acquired in putting on the warmer blue is finally quite symbolic of the character of the Mallorcan champion who becomes the 4th player of the Open era to reach this bar after Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Roger Federer.
He knew it very well: facing Feliciano Lopez and his formidable left-handed service for a first hard indoor match looked like a trap. Especially since on a fast surface, Rafael Nadal did not have very good memories against his compatriot. Admittedly, he led 9-4 in their duels before this match, but he had lost the last two in Shanghai in 2014 and Cincinnati in 2015. So when he found himself in a tie-break whose victory was imperative in the second set, the world number 2, of anxious nature, was surely not leading.
Hesitant from the bottom, formidable in service
This uncomfortable situation from which he ended up extricating himself, Nadal had put himself into it all alone like a grown-up. In an Accor Arena deserted by the public, which must have been very funny to one of the darlings of the Parisian public, let’s be clear, the Mallorcan completely missed his start to the match. With a double fault, he even offered an entry break on a plateau to his opponent who was able to hold it until the end of the first round.
Not in legs, hampered in the exchange by the slice and the opposing variations, Nadal made many unusual mistakes in the forehand. But as the champion that he is, far from being annoyed, he made it a point and improved what he was able to improve: his service. In the second act, he lost only 4 small points on his faceoff. And if he did not know how to convert his first 6 break opportunities, it is logically that he got away with it. decisive game, always so hard on the first ball (63% of firsts, 16 aces and 89% of firsts). The world number 2 had surprisingly lost all the tie-breaks he had previously played against Lopez.
With this new momentum, Nadal pushed his advantage at the start of the third act by finally seizing the opposing commitment on a white station wagon. And if Lopez was threatening again on the next game, getting two break balls, it was swan song. More and more authoritative and enterprising, the world number 2 retained his advantage to seek his qualification in the round of 16 where he will find the Australian Jordan Thompson, also knocking against Borna Coric (2-6, 6-4, 6 -2). Passed close to an early exit from the road, he nevertheless laid the first stone towards a possible Parisian double. Because in the game, he can only do better.