PARIS – Maybe, just maybe, Rafael Nadal was a tad vulnerable, the thinking went before this French Open.
He had lost three times on his beloved red clay already this year, more defeats than he ever had on the surface before heading to Roland Garros.
Then came an admission, after the Grand Slam tournament’s third round, that the No. 1-ranked player’s back was bothering him and slowing his serves.
Well, leave it to the eight-time French Open champion’s upcoming quarterfinal opponent – 2013 runner-up David Ferrer, one of the men who beat Nadal on clay this spring – to set the record straight.
“Rafael,” Ferrer said, “is always the favorite.”
Nadal certainly looked the part in the fourth round Monday, when he won 18 points in a row during one stretch en route to beating 83rd-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 for a record 32nd consecutive victory at the French Open.
The No. 1-ranked Nadal, now 63-1 for his career at the tournament, has won all 12 sets he’s played in Paris in 2014, dropping a total of 23 games. He was asked whether he would have preferred a more taxing encounter by now.
“You never know what’s better,” replied Nadal, whose audience at Court Philippe Chatrier included musician Prince. “But, in theory, the theory says that it’s better (to) win like this than win longer matches.”
The last of the 22 U.S. men and women who were in the French Open singles draws, 15th-seeded Sloane Stephens, lost 6-4, 6-3 to No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania in the fourth round. That came a day after the last American man in singles, No. 10 John Isner, exited before the quarterfinals, too.