You take what laurels you can against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. On Day 7 of the French Open 2014, Leonardo Mayer became the first man this fortnight to unburden the Spaniard of four games in a set, then stretched that to five. The world No.65 broke Nadal in the second set, and even had him serving to save it. But of course, the eight-time champion not only saved that one, but took two more without reply, unruffled even by a warning for a time violation, to win 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. Nadal will play the fast-rising Serb Dusan Lajovic in the last 16.
“With Pascal [Maria, the umpire], I always have problems,” said Nadal afterwards. “Always there is more pressure than usual. I don’t think it’s logical. There are judges who know how to interpret the rules better than others; whereas some will follow all the rules very strictly and use the timer. The best thing would be to have a big clock on the court. If we had a countdown, we would know exactly how many seconds we have left. It’s true to say that I’m slow, I admit this. But today, no. but with this judge, there are always one or two warnings with him, and I have to accept it.”
Hollywood star Owen Wilson was courtside on Chatrier to witness the joust, and fittingly Mayer’s back story has the outline makings of a B-movie plot. At 27, he was bidding to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time – but he had never defeated a top 10 player in 15 attempts, nor faced a world No.1 before. The script that unfolded had its enervating phases of mini-drama, but ultimately there could be no twist in the tale.
In the warmest sunshine of the opening week, the first set gave little hint that this would not be strictly routine stuff. Nadal broke for 2-1, with the high point for Mayer coming when he held for 2-5, and saving the first of three set points.
Nadal looked to be following the same formula when he broke at the same stage of the second set. But at 2-3 Mayer was having a seriously good time, bringing up his second break point with a backhand down the line. Nadal was too good for him on that occasion, but at 3-4 Mayer forced him in to an error for break point, and then Nadal’s backhand bounced off the net cord to land out. Eventually Nadal lobbed Mayer to break for 6-5, and served the set out with a power forehand.
By then Mayer was largely spent. He should have secured the opening game of the third when the court was open, but sent the ball long. He put his hands on his knees, knowing it was a bad one, and moments later Nadal duly pounced for the break. But the net cord once again decided that Mayer should be rewarded and it was 1-1. Those two games alone lasted 19 minutes, and Nadal didn’t have it all his own way from there – but he took victory on the first match point, extending his Roland Garros winning streak to 31.