PARIS: Ten-time champion Rafael Nadal breezed into the French Open third round and a clash against childhood friend Richard Gasquet on Thursday, as Maria Sharapova closed in on a potential reunion with longtime rival Serena Williams.
Top seed and world number one Nadal, chasing an 11th title, swept past Argentinian Guido Pella 6-2, 6-1, 6-1, showing no signs of the brief struggles he faced in the first round against lucky loser Simone Bolelli.
The 31-year-old will next face home favourite, and his old junior rival Gasquet, whom he has beaten 15 times from as many meetings in professional tennis.
“Richard is a very good friend. We’ve known each other since we were 11 or 12 years old so it will be very special to play again against him on such an important court (Philippe Chatrier) for my career,” said the champion.
Sharapova, the champion in Paris in 2012 and 2014, edged closer to a possible last-16 duel with Williams by seeing off Croatia´s Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-4 in a tie which featured 10 breaks of serve and was secured on a fifth match point.
Former world number one Sharapova, seeded 28 this year, will face Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova for a place in the fourth round.
“She’s playing great,” Sharapova told Eurosport Russia of Pliskova, a player she defeated in their only previous meeting in the 2015 Fed Cup final.
“She won a big title in Stuttgart, so I have to be ready for this match and I´ll be ready.”
Serena is a possible opponent but the three-time champion still has her second round to play Thursday against Australia´s Ashleigh Barty.
Sharapova is playing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.
The 31-year-old was serving a doping ban in 2016 and was refused a wildcard by Roland Garros organisers last year.
Williams is a three-time champion in Paris and playing her first Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open.
All eyes will again be on her striking black catsuit which dominated headlines after her first-round win over Kristyna Pliskova and has caused some to question whether or not it’s legal.
Manufacturers Nike insisted Thursday that the suit, which Williams claims helps prevent the return of blood clots which put her life in danger after giving birth to her daughter in September, will get another airing on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Williams, 36, who is ranked at 451 in the world after her lengthy absence, defeated Barty in their only previous meeting, needing less than an hour to secure a straight sets win at the 2014 Australian Open.
Top seed Simona Halep reached the third round with a comfortable 6-3, 6-1 win over Taylor Townsend of the United States.
Halep, twice a runner-up in Paris, will face Germany’s Andrea Petkovic for a place in the last 16.
Petkovic was a semi-finalist in 2014 and was once ranked in the top 10 but has slipped to 107 after an injury-blighted few seasons.
Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, was too strong for France´s number 257 Fiona Ferro 6-4, 6-3.
Title challengers Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem struggled into the last 32.
Third seed Cilic reached the third round for the eighth time with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-7 (3/7), 7-5 win over Polish qualifier and world number 188 Hubert Hurkacz.
Former US Open champion Cilic, who reached the quarter-finals last year, will face Steve Johnson of the United States.
However, it was a roller-coaster of a performance by newly-wed Cilic who cracked 48 winners but also 52 unforced errors.
He also squandered a match point in the third set.
“I was in control but played a poor third set so I had to start all over again,” said 29-year-old Cilic after his 20th match win of the season.
Seventh-seeded Thiem, a semi-finalist in 2016 and 2017, racked up his 31st win of the year.
The Austrian, the only man to beat Nadal on clay this year, saw off Greek teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a match which had been suspended overnight after the third set.
Next up for Thiem is Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.
Highly-rated Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov was knocked out by Germany’s Maximilian Marterer 5-7, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-4.
World number 70 Marterer, 22, has now reached the third round at successive Grand Slam events and will face Estonian lucky loser Jurgen Zopp.