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Tuesday, July 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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French Open notes: Rafael Nadal’s bad back offers off-court drama

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PARIS – The closest thing to intrigue or drama involving Rafael Nadal on Saturday came after his 31st consecutive French Open victory concluded.

That’s when the eight-time champion revealed that a painful back is slowing his serves – and, all in all, giving him more trouble than his opponents so far.

During the entire course of his 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win against 65th-ranked Leonardo Mayer of Argentina, Nadal made 10 unforced errors – two in the first set, three in the second, five in the third.

More worrisome would be his back, which also acted up during a loss to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final.

“During my career, I had (a) few problems. … Hopefully will not be (the) case” the rest of the way in Paris, Nadal said.

Successful strategy

Leading two sets to one but already down a break in the fourth, Gael Monfils decided he needed to catch his breath.

So he tanked the set. Lost it 6-0. Didn’t even try.

The 23rd-seeded Frenchman advanced to the fourth round at the French Open by beating Fabio Fognini 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 in a match that had a combined 137 unforced errors and one penalty point.

“He (broke) me straight away. Somehow I was starting to struggle a little bit, not cramping, but I feel really tired,” Monfils said of his fourth-set tactics. “And then I tried to break back. Couldn’t break back.

“It’s, like, I want to serve first in the fifth. So, I mean, the only option I had is to take 6-love. Why should I make any effort?”

Major skills

If there truly is a secret to the success Sloane Stephens enjoys at Grand Slam tournaments, she isn’t willing to share it.

After beating No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-3, 6-4 to reach the fourth round at the French Open for the third year in a row.

Over the last two seasons, the American is 21-5 (an .808 winning percentage) in Grand Slam matches, but only 32-29 (.525) at run-of-the-mill tournaments.

She’s made it to the second week at each of the past six majors, a run that began with a semifinal appearance at the 2013 Australian Open and stands as the longest active streak among women.

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