Rafael Nadal has successfully made his 2010 debut at Roland Garros, interestingly not on the main show court Philippe Chatrier, being booted to the second show court so that Marion Bartoli could play to French crowds. On the slightly smaller second show court a packed crowd gathered to watch a French wildcard take on the King of Clay. Nadal won 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.
Earlier this year Ivan Ljubicic commented that what makes Rafa so hard to beat in Paris is the size of Philippe Chatrier. The amount of room around the court allows Nadal to run everything down, and I have to wonder if maybe the tournament organisers were listening when they scheduled this match.
Nadal appeared to have done his homework against the junior, using a precise body serve to the forehand on break points. “I know him a little bit because I have friends who know him. I was told he serves pretty well, that he hits very strongly. Therefore, I have to be more regular and more consistent.” The huge difference between the players was evident, despite some excellent shots off the young Frenchman’s racket. Gianni Mina, at just 18, had not quite cracked the $10,000 prize money mark coming into the tournament. At the same age Nadal had $3 million and Roland Garros under his belt.
Nadal struggled in his early service game as his opponent sprinted to retrieve inch perfect shot from the Spaniard, but slowly managed to push Mina back. Mina persisted trying to make his shots, trying to spread the court and serving well to try and end points early with some smart play, but having suffered an early break in the opening game he was already behind 0-2 and Nadal kept finding incredible angles with his forehand.
Mina, debuting in his first Grand Slam, played beautiful attacking tennis at times, but was ultimately unable to convert any of the 9 break point chances he had during the course of the match. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, Nadal was relentless, eventually converting another break point in the 5th game for a 4-1 lead.
Despite a beautiful drop shot, Nadal found himself fighting off break points again, for the third consecutive game, but the Spaniards defensive skills were far superior, and Mina was forced to serve to stay alive in the set. The 6-2 scoreline of the first set didn’t indicate how well the young Frenchman played. It took Nadal 54 minutes to close out the set, with Rafa seemingly at times looking for court that would have been there otherwise as he slid on the smaller second show court.
After 9 minutes, Mina managed to hold his opening service game. Excellent sportsmanship was on display in the third game when Mina’s ace was called wide. As Mina prepared to serve again, Nadal checked the mark and conceded the point, leading to Mina applauding his opponent. The second set followed a very similar pattern, except Mina started to show some signs of fatigue as Rafa moved into a 5-1 lead again, pushing Mina further back as the Frenchman grunted with the physical strain.
Interestingly the aggressive Nadal of Monte Carlo, the Nadal who stood right up on the baseline, didn’t turn up for duty against Mina. Rafa spent most of the match standing a few meters behind the baseline to receive all serves before finally moving in to dictate play.
Nadal appeared unimpressed by Mina’s call for the trainer after 2 hours and 9 minutes of play to get a rub to his back as he giggled with the trainer. As the clouds moved in Nadal looked keen to get off the court rather than sit and wait for the massage to be completed on a player who was simply feeling the physical effects of playing Nadal. Play resumed with Nadal serving for a 4-2 lead. Mina never won another game.
Nadal next faces Horacio Zebollas in the second round. The two have never played before.
“Let me start by saying that I played really bad today. Having said that, I always had a so, s start here in Roland Garros and 4 times went well in the end… It is funny but I have been practicing really great these days, I have been playing well at the previous events and I am felling great. Then I stepped out on the court, first round and… I played terrible. I really don’t know the reason. I have been asked if that worries me and i have to say that it really doesn’t… for the moment. I hope that on Thursday things will be better. I was really angry for my game today.
I also would like to say that some people, specially media, asked me about being put to play on the second court. To be honest I think it is normal I played there my first match. It was not against me, I know that. It is normal that if I am playing with a young player like Gianni, they put us on that court. The pressure for him was less and it is a good way to protect him and get him better from the start. No worries as they say in Australia… (I learned that!)” – Nadal’s comment to Times Online
Its fair to say that if Mina continues his strength and fitness development, that with the shots he produced at times, he could soon be shooting up the rankings.