Ten-time champion and world #1 Rafael Nadal continues his quest for an eleventh Roland Garros title against fellow lefty Guido Pella of Argentina. Nadal, who won three of the four tournaments he entered on the clay and has just lost two matches so far this season remains the overwhelming favourite for the title this year. Will Pella, who has two career top ten victories, be able to pull off one of the greatest shocks the tennis world has ever seen or will the ruthless Rafa march on?
Nadal and Pella have met once before although never on a clay court. Their previous match came at the Indian Wells in the California last season in the second round. Nadal, who was fresh from finals in Melbourne and Acapulco went into that match the heavy favourite and he played like it. One break was enough in the first set to seal it six games to three and Pella was less competitive still in the second set. It proved to be a chastening 3-6 2-6 loss for the Argentine.
Path to the second round
Nadal began his Roland Garros against Italy’s Simone Bolelli, ranked 129th in the world. However, Bolelli played one of the finest matches of his career to really push the king of clay, although he was ultimately without reward. Nadal took the first two sets in the face of spirited resistance from Bolelli, but then found himself 3-0 down in the third set. For the second time in as many tournaments Nadal was helped by a rain delay. He battled back to level terms and forced a tiebreak, where he saved three set points, eventually triumphing 11-9.
Pella, who is also competing in the doubles alongside his compatriot Diego Schwartzman, began his singles campaign against Joao Sousa, who impressively claimed the title in Estoril in his native Portugal earlier this season. However, Sousa put in a strangely limp performance against Pella, who had more than enough quality to punish him. It proved to be no contest as Pella raced through into the second round for the third time in his career a 6-2 6-3 6-4 winner.
How do they match up?
Ahead of this match Pella described Nadal as invincible on a clay court and it is not hard to see why. Nobody moves and defends better than the Spaniard, particularly on Chatrier where the size of the court allows him to defend from exceptionally deep. Fortunately for Pella, this match is to be contested on Lenglen, but Nadal has actually never lost before on the French Open’s second show court. The Argentinian will also have to withstand the power of the Nadal groundstrokes.
Pella himself is a fine clay courter. His groundstrokes are consistent and reliable, with his forehand his major weapon. However, he will have to work extremely hard to counter Nadal’s aggression, something that no one other than Robin Soderling and Djokovic have been able to do at Roland Garros. Both did it by being able to go toe-to-toe with Nadal and either out hit him or out last him. Whether or not Pella has the quality to do the same is uncertain at best.
Nadal was probably made to work harder than he expected against Bolelli who delivered a superb performance. But the Spaniard was ultimately able to win through safely in straight sets and there is no reason to expect a different outcome from this match. Pella is a good competitor and has forged a very respectable career. But he is not in Nadal’s league, particularly at Roland Garros. Expect Nadal to reach the third round comfortably.