PARIS: Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal lost just one game in a ruthless display to reach the French Open last 16 on Friday, but title-holder Novak Djokovic needed five sets to survive.
Nadal demonstrated why he is once more considered the overwhelming favourite at Roland Garros with a brutal demolition of Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili.
The Spaniard romped to a 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 win, narrowly missing out on becoming just the sixth man in the Open era to record a “triple bagel.”
“Perfection? I don’t know about that,” said Nadal, who plans to celebrate his 31st birthday on Saturday by watching Real Madrid take on Juventus in the Champions League final.
“I think I played very well today. The most important thing is to be through and I played my best match in a while.”
Nadal will meet compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut for a spot in the quarter-finals.
Reigning champion Djokovic escaped trouble against Diego Schwartzman, the second seed rallying from two sets to one down to prevail 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1.
The 12-time major winner was embroiled in a bitter spat with umpire Carlos Ramos in the fourth set as Djokovic was warned for unsportsmanlike conduct after an earlier time violation.
But Djokovic eventually proved too strong for Schwartzman, playing in the last 32 of a Slam for the first time, and goes on to face Spanish 19th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas in round four.
“I expected a tough match, there were lots of exchanges from the baseline and the conditions were heavy,” said Djokovic.
“I congratulate Diego on a great battle. He played very, very well.”
Canadian fifth seed Milos Raonic advanced to the last 16 when Guillermo Garcia-Lopez retired with a thigh injury in the second set.
Raonic, a quarter-finalist in Paris in 2014, led 6-1, 1-0 before the veteran Spaniard, ranked 153, quit after just 28 minutes.
He will play Spanish 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, who dumped out Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
Dominic Thiem, a semi-finalist last year and the only player to beat Nadal on clay this season, brushed past American 25th seed Steve Johnson 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
Belgian 10th seed David Goffin suffered a nasty ankle injury when he got caught up in court covers, forcing him to abandon his third-round tie with Horacio Zeballos of Argentina.
Goffin was leading 5-4 when he chased down the ball towards the back of the Suzanne Lenglen court.
However, his right foot got horribly jammed beneath the rolled-up tarpaulin before he tumbled into the wall and a linesman’s chair.
The 26-year-old was helped from the court by two officials and retired in the locker room.
An MRI scan revealed that the Belgian had not suffered a break.
Reigning women’s champion Garbine Muguruza gained further momentum in the defence of her title with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Kazakh 27th seed Yulia Putintseva.
The Spaniard closed out victory with an ace in a match that featured 11 breaks of serve in 20 games played.
“I think the more matches I play and the toughest victories I think gives you self-confidence, successful feeling out there,” said Muguruza.
“I think it’s important with all the three matches that I played that are not easy at all.”
Muguruza plays French 13th seed Kristina Mladenovic, who rallied from 5-2 down in the third set to beat American Shelby Rogers, for a place in the last eight.
Venus Williams cruised past Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-1, while 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova overcame China’s Zhang Shuai 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 7-5.
Australian 23rd seed Samantha Stosur, the 2010 runner-up, breezed into the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-2 rout of American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Ons Jabeur’s historic run ended as the lucky loser from Tunisia, the first Arab woman to reach the last 32 at a major, lost 6-2, 6-2 to Swiss 30th seed Timea Bacsinszky, a 2015 semi-finalist. --AFP