Paris: For the second time in his unparalleled French Open career, Rafael Nadal owns a 31-match winning streak at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament. Now he`ll try to get to 32 for the first time.
The eight-time champion at Roland Garros equalled his longest run at Roland Garros with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 victory over 65th-ranked Leonardo Mayer of Argentina in the third round Saturday. Afterward, Nadal thanked the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd in French for supporting him and told them "a lot of memories come through my mind" whenever he plays in that stadium.
The last time Nadal won 31 in a row in Paris, he failed to get No. 32, losing in the fourth round in 2009 to Robin Soderling. That remains the Spaniard`s only defeat in 63 matches at the tournament. He has dropped only 19 games this year, heading into a match against 83rd-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, who is in only the second Grand Slam tournament of his career and beat Jack Sock of the United States 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
Before this French Open, the 23-year-old Lajovic had a 10-21 career record in tour-level matches, never winning two in a row.
The top-seeded Nadal made only 10 unforced errors against Mayer, two in the first set, three in the second and five in the third. Still, there were moments when the match was far closer than the final score indicates, including when Mayer was serving at 5-all, deuce, in the second set. After Mayer`s forehand sailed long to set up a break point, Nadal converted it by stretching to scoop a backhand lob. As Mayer watched the shot sail overhead, he waved his left hand to signal to the ball to go out, then rolled his eyes when it curled in. At the other end, Nadal pumped his fist, ahead 6-5 in that set and well on his way to reaching the fourth round for the 10th time in trips to Roland Garros.
Roger Federer, who won his third-round match Friday, is the only other man to make it to the final 16 in Paris that many years in a row. Earlier Saturday, No. 15 Sloane Stephens moved into the fourth round for the third consecutive time, getting her game in gear at a Grand Slam tournament, as usual.
The American now meets No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania. Neither has ever made it to the quarterfinals in Paris. Stephens eliminated No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-3, 6-4, while Halep beat 55th-ranked Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain 6-3, 6-0 as the sun came out and the temperature hit 70 degrees (20 Celsius) after several days of overcast skies and occasional rain.
At No. 4, Halep is the highest seeded woman left, because of losses by No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 2 Li Na and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska.
"That`s a surprise for everyone," said Halep, the runner-up on clay at Madrid three weeks ago. Stephens has shown a decided knack for performing far better at Grand Slams than run-of-the-mill events. This is the sixth straight major where she`s made it to the second week, the longest active streak among women and a run that began with a semifinal appearance at the 2013 Australian Open. Over the last two seasons, Stephens is 21-5 (an .808 winning percentage) in Grand Slam matches, but only 32-29 (.525) everywhere else.
What feels different about a Slam for her? "Nothing. I don`t know. I don`t know. I`m not sure. Honestly, if I had the answer and I knew," Stephens said, pivoting in her new conference chair and holding her arms out wide, "I would tell you guys. I`d be like, `Oh, yeah!` But I can`t even think of anything. Like, I don`t know."
In other action, 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova beat an error-prone Petra Kvitova 6-7 (3), 6-1, 9-7, while the 2008 title winner at Roland Garros, Ana Ivanovic, bowed out with a 6-3, 6-3 loss to 23rd-seeded Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. Sara Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, made only seven unforced errors in her 6-0, 6-1 victory over 98th-ranked Julia Glushko of Israel. Errani will face 2008 U.S. Open runner-up Jelena Jankovic, a 6-1, 6-2 winner against No. 26 Sorana Cirstea of Romania.
The man Nadal beat in last year`s final, fifth-seeded David Ferrer, defeated No. 32 Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-3. Ferrer now plays No. 19 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.