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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rafa Nadal

"Two good matches. Three sets. Now I have a very tough opponent in front, a player who plays very well against top players," said Rafael Nadal of third-round opponent David Goffin.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Roland Garros ripped up Court Philippe Chatrier following the 2018 tournament to refurbish the red clay stage.

Rafael Nadal has been busy playing demolition expert in his Roland Garros return.

Watch: 5 Players Who Can Change Their Seasons in Paris

The 11-time champion chewed up successive German qualifiers named Yannick, dismantling Yannick Maden, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, to roll into the third round today. It followed Nadal's 6-2, 6-1, 6-3, drubbing of Yannick Hanfmann in his opener.

An imposing Nadal has allowed 13 games in two matches.

The second-seeded Spaniard improved to 88-2 lifetime in Paris streaking into a third-round clash vs. David Goffin.

Here are five things we learned from Rafa's first two round prior to his first true test of the tournament in the 27th-seeded Goffin, who has permitted just 14 games through two rounds.

1. Rhythm King

We know Rafa thrives on ritual and repetition—the king of clay has been energized by plenty of both sweeping through six sets.

This has largely been an ideal start for Nadal because he's been able to establish his range and rhythm against a pair of ex-college standouts, who were each making their Roland Garros debut. Both Yannicks fought hard—the 114th-ranked Maden broke the Spaniard twice in the third set on Court Suzanne-Lenglen today—but Nadal immediately answered.

Playing through stress-free rounds has empowered Nadal to find his forehand groove, adjust his court position and refine his transition game.

The left-hander is still returning serve with the crocodiles on the Lacoste signage nipping at his heels near the back wall, but he's moving up quickly during rallies and has shown sharp transition skills finishing at net. Transition clarity was lacking in his game in both Monte-Carlo and Barcelona earlier this spring.


2. Energy Efficient

Through two rounds, Nadal has spent four hours, six minutes on court. Nadal, who celebrates his 33rd birthday, on Monday is bidding to become the fourth man to win four majors after 30, joining Roger Federer, Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver in an elite group.

To that end, the Australian Open runner-up knows winning cleanly and quickly in the early rounds is essential to save his strength for a potential blockbuster clash vs. world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the final.

In an interview with the ATP earlier this week, coach Carlos Moya suggests his charge's early-spring struggles could actually prove beneficial in Paris with less match mileage and shorter practice sessions providing him with fresher legs.

"He’s feeling well. It's a little different to previous years, with fewer matches in his legs and perhaps he's fresher for it," Moya said.

Another ferocious lefty baseliner, Jimmy Connors, condensed his practice sessions post 30 but infused each practice with the intensity be brought to match play. Moya has persuaded notorious work-horse Nadal that less is more.

"We’re doing just one session here," Moya told the ATP. "What I always try to tell him is to train efficiently, that the quality should be as high as possible. Being on court for the sake of it… I don't believe in doing it at his age."

3. Signs of Confidence

Traditionally, three areas of Nadal's game serve as barometers of confidence: Movement, serving direction and his willingness to fire his forehand down the line.

The man in the canary-colored shirt is not wearing any taping on his knees and his moved with his trademark vigor and passion. Nadal has used his curling crosscourt forehand to set up some down the line daggers. He's served 66 percent and surrendered serve twice in two matches with both breaks coming in the third set today.

We'll get a better idea of how effective Nadal's serve when he squares off against Goffin in a match pitting two of the game's best returners. Nadal leads the ATP in return games won (37.62%) this season, while Goffin is fifth on tour in that category (31.60%).


4. Heating Up

It's been a cool start to the French fortnight, but the forecast calls for a much warmer weekend with temperatures pushing toward the mid 80s.

Historically, when the the temperature climbs, the red clay hardens, plays faster and Nadal's twisting topspin shots trampoline even higher off the terre battue creating timing problems for opponents.

Warmer weather puts Nadal in a sunny disposition.

"(I prefer) sun; I like good conditions, but people who don't understand this game think that I play better when I can play slowly," Nadal said. "It's the contrary, I like playing when the ball is fast. But if you ask me what I prefer, is pleasant temperature and sun."

5. Time To Elevate 

The Rome champion has done precisely what he's needed to progressing into the third round for the 15th straight year. Now, the fun starts vs Goffin. Nadal calls the slender Belgian "a very complex player."

"He's a very complex player. He has all the shots," Nadal said of Goffin. "He's a player who have an amazing career, and we practiced a lot of times. We know each other well. He's an opponent that you need to play very well to have success against him.

"He is quick. He has very good angles. Gonna be, being honest, a big challenge to be in the third round. Here we are. I gonna try my best to be ready for it."

Nadal has solved every problem Goffin has posed on clay winning all three of their clay-court clashes without dropping a set.

In their first clay-court clash, Goffin was on the verge of a 4-2 lead in their first meeting at the 2017 Monte-Carlo when chair umpire Cedric Mourier came out of his chair and incorrectly overruled a call in Nadal's favor.

Goffin protested vehemently, and replays later showed that Mourier picked the wrong mark, but the call stood and Nadal broke serve to level at three-all.

“When the umpires goes down and says the ball is good, what can I say?” Nadal said. “‘No the ball is out?’”

A rattled Goffin would win just one of the final ten games as Nadal rolled to a 6-3, 6-1, semifinal win.

Looking ahead to what he calls the "ultimate challenge", Goffin knows he must try to take Nadal's menacing topspin on the rise and serve with precision to truly trouble the champion. 

"I need to use my strength of course," Goffin said. "I need to use angles. I need to play early. If he plays short shots, I will have to do it. But if I have to run a lot, it will be to his favor. And when he starts dictating the match, it becomes very difficult.

"So I need to make use of his strength as an advantage to dictate the match myself. I need to have good serves as well."


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