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.
For now, leave the on-court theatrics to others. Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, for example, was clutching at aching hamstrings while being taken to 7-all in the fifth set by No. 28 Philipp Kohlschreiber before their third-round match was suspended for fading light. No. 23 Gael Monfils acknowledged tanking a set en route to a 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 victory over No. 14 Fabio Fognini, who was docked a point for chucking his racket near a ball boy.
“They make a good show for the crowd,” Nadal said. “Long match. Crowd involved. Good for tennis.”
Well, aside from the fact that Monfils and Fognini combined for more than twice as many unforced errors, 137, as winners, 66.
Nadal’s play was much, much cleaner: During the entire course of his 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win against 65th-ranked Leonardo Mayer, the
No. 1-seeded Spaniard made 10 unforced errors – two in the first set, three in the second, five in the third.
He’s dropped a total of 19 games through three matches.
More worrisome would be his back, which also acted up in January 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.
Next for Nadal is 83rd-ranked Dusan Lajovic, who beat Jack Sock, of the United States, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Another American, Donald Young, lost in five sets to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, leaving No. 10 John Isner, a former Georgia star, as the last U.S. man.
Women’s fourth-round matchups set up were No. 4 Simona Halep against No. 15 Sloane Stephens, 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova against Lucie Safavora, 2012 runner-up Sara Errani against Jelena Jankovic, and Andrea Petkovic against 148th-ranked qualifier Kiki Bertens.
Stephens eliminated No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-4, while Halep beat 55th-ranked Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-3, 6-0.
Halep is the highest seeded woman left, following losses by No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 2 Li Na and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska.