French Open 2016: Records keep tumbling for Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are both safely through to the third round of the French Open

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis in Paris

The records have just kept tumbling since the tennis world shifted to Paris.

Some, like Roger Federer’s run of consecutive Grand Slam appearances was, of course, halted at 65 before the French Open got under way. But Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and many more have been ensuring that the numbers continue to roll.

Take Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the top-ranked Frenchman in Paris. He took on Marcos Baghdatis—both of them over 30, and thus two of a record 51 over-30s to start in the main draw of the tournament.

Tsonga was bidding to score his 100th Grand Slam match win, and thus become just the third Frenchman to do so, along with two of the famed four Mousquetaires, Jean Borotra and Henri Cochet, after whom the French Open trophy is named. Tsonga did it, after almost three and a half hours and coming back from two sets to love down.

Already, by reaching the second round, Baghdatis had notched up his 300th match-win here, and he was swiftly followed by No15 seed John Isner, whose 300th win came over Kyle Edmund yesterday.

Two more over-30s, David Ferrer and Juan Monaco, had split equally their previous matches, but rather surprisingly, had never met in a Grand Slam before. With over two hours on the clock and still just one set apiece, they could be on their way to a record of their own.

There were also, of course, smaller milestones that nevertheless meant a lot to the players concerned. Briton Aljaz Bedene reached not just his first French Open third round but his first Grand Slam third round. Teenager Alexander Zverev won his first match in his debut at Roland Garros, and swiftly followed it with his first third-round run in a Grand Slam.

At the other end of the age scale, Ivo Karlovic became the oldest man to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for 25 years: The 37-year-old survived a 4hr 32min five-set marathon to set a meeting against the No2 seed Andy Murray.

And talking of ace machines, while Karlovic and Isner set up their habitual lead for tournament aces, it was Bedene, with a total of 36 from his two matches, who sat third. Not bad for a man of his slight build and moderate height.

Dominic Thiem, age 22 and close to a career-high ranking, reached the third round here for the first time having recorded his 100th win with the Nice title last weekend. It puts him at the top of the list of clay wins this year, 22 of them, and with a staggering match tally of 48.

But of course it has been, and continues to be, Djokovic and Nadal who create new milestones at every turn.

Even before they began, Djokovic marked his 29th birthday with his 200th week at No1 in the rankings, and in another week’s time, he will mark his 100th week in a row at the top.

He is, as if any tennis fan remained in any doubt, targeting a rather bigger slice of history by the end of the tournament, the completion of his set of Grand Slams—something only seven other men have ever done. And if he wins in Paris this year, he could even go on to achieve something still more significant. Only Don Budge and Laver have ever won the men’s calendar Grand Slam.

Before that, and by winning his second match in his 12th Roland Garros appearance, he marked his 50th French Open match-win. Djokovic’s 50th victim was qualifier Steve Darcis, who put up some stern resistance through more than two and a quarter hours before heading to the exit, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.

On the very same day at the very same stage of the draw, the French Open’s greatest champion, No4 seed Nadal, was about to become the eighth man ever to win 200 Grand Slam matches.

In truth, it would have been an upset of the highest order had the Spaniard failed to do so. He played Facundo Bagnis, ranked 99, who had never won a tour title, and had won only his second Grand Slam match to set up his meeting with Nadal.

However the Argentine initially stunned the Philippe Chatrier arena by breaking Nadal in the first game and then holding to take a 2-0 lead. However, order was quickly restored as Nadal took six of the next seven games and the set, 6-3.

The second set was over in under half an hour, beginning with a break from Nadal and ending with a hold. In between, the nine-time champion did not drop a game.

He raced to a 5-1 lead in the third set too, but Bagnis managed to surprise break to take Nadal to 5-3, only to drop his own serve again, and with it the match: 6-3 in an hour and three-quarters.

Nadal is just four short of his 800th career match-win, but to manage that during the French Open, he will have to reach the final. His record at Roland Garros may now be a remarkable 72-2, but his problem with reaching that milestone, just as it is has been in achieving his record 10th title in Paris, is Djokovic.

The two men are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals for a 50th time in a record-setting rivalry—on Nadal’s 30th birthday. And Djokovic is one of those two men to have beaten Nadal here—last year in the quarter-final.

This time, each again has the potential to end the other’s dream target: Djokovic could be denied his stab at that one Grand Slam missing from his resume; Nadal could be denied his shot at an unparalleled 10 French Open titles, and with it the all-time record of clay titles—Roland Garros would be his 50th.

That 50th clay title will go to Nadal sooner or later, it seems certain, but how many more chances he may have to lift that Coupe de Mousquetaires is less clear.

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