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Nadal eases into French Open last 16 as Halep, Thiem impress

Rafael Nadal charged into the French Open last 16 on Friday and took another confident stride towards equalling Roger Federer’s record of 20 major titles while Simona Halep and Dominic Thiem made surprisingly short work of tricky opponents.

The 12-time Roland Garros champion dispatched Italian world number 74 Stefano Travaglia 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 in just 95 minutes, notching his 96th victory at the tournament.

Nadal next faces 213th-ranked American qualifier Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion and 1992 French Open runner-up Petr Korda, for a quarter-final spot.

“I think today I played the best match this year at Roland Garros,” said Nadal, now 96-2 at the French Open in his 16th appearance.

“I’m very happy with this victory and I hope to continue like this. I’m playing quite well and I played more aggressive than in previous days.”

Nadal has yet to drop a set in Paris this week although the combined ranking of his opponents so far is 606, including that of Korda who admitted to naming his cat after the Spaniard.

The 20-year-old Korda beat Pedro Martinez in straight sets to become the first man outside the top 200 to make the last 16 in Paris since France’s Arnaud di Pasquale in 2002. 

Hugo Gaston, the lone Frenchman left in the draw, quickly became the second such lowly-ranked man in the fourth round when the world number 239 shocked 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 in a rain-interrupted tie.

Gaston, 20, next faces Austrian third seed Dominic Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in Paris the past two years, who broke down early resistance from Norway’s Casper Ruud to secure an impressive 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 victory.

“In general I was super happy with my performance. I think was one of the best ones this year,” said US Open champion Thiem.

Women’s top seed and title favourite Halep, the 2018 champion, avenged last year’s Roland Garros loss to Amanda Anisimova by thrashing the American teenager 6-0, 6-1 in only 54 minutes.

The reigning Wimbledon champion made only seven unforced errors as she stretched her career-best winning run to 17 matches.

“I think I played a really good match. I was very aggressive and I knew from last year I had to change something and I did that today,” said Halep.

“I took the game in my hands. I think I did a great job changing a little bit the tactics.”

Halep meets another 19-year-old opponent, Poland’s Iga Swiatek, for a place in the quarter-finals. She dropped just one game when the pair met here in the last 16 a year ago.

Halep’s status as the women’s frontrunner was reinforced following the withdrawal of Serena Williams, on top of the absence of world number one and defending champion Ashleigh Barty, as well as US Open winner Naomi Osaka.

‘No pressure’ for Halep

“I don’t feel the pressure. Of course I expect from myself to play good tennis but that doesn’t mean I have to win every match,” said Halep.

“I just want to try to take my chance every time I step on the court, and I’m not thinking about title. It’s very far (off).” 

Two-time quarter-finalist Elina Svitolina ensured she will stick around for the second week with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, the 27th seed.

Ukrainian Svitolina is full of confidence after capturing her 15th career WTA at Strasbourg last weekend and will next square off against Caroline Garcia.

Home hope Garcia dumped out 16th seed Elise Mertens 1-6, 6-4, 7-5, closing out the upset win over the Belgian on her sixth match point.

Swiatek dismissed former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 to seal a return to the last 16.

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev tackles Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato, who famously beat Novak Djokovic on his way to a semi-final appearance at Roland Garros in 2018. 

Zverev, last month’s US Open runner-up, will face Italian teenager Jannik Sinner should he advance. 

Sinner beat Federico Coria in straight sets to join countryman Lorenzo Sonego in the last 16. Sonego is enjoying his best Grand Slam run and edged a 36-point tiebreak against Taylor Fritz to complete a 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, 7-6 (19/17) victory.

Kiki Bertens will attempt to move on her from her stormy win over Sara Errani after which the Dutch fifth seed departed the court in a wheelchair.

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