World No. 1 Rafael Nadal continued his assault on the 2014 French Open field en route to a potential fifth straight Roland Garros title as he defeated Leonardo Mayer 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 in the third round Saturday.
The routine win was the latest example of Nadal's dominance at Roland Garros, and it extended his impressive winning streak:
Rafael Nadal advances in straight sets at French Open, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. He's won 31 straight matches at Roland Garros. pic.twitter.com/1jv8mLVmVe— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 31, 2014
Although Mayer challenged Nadal at certain points throughout the match, the result was never in doubt.
Nadal is favored against essentially everyone he faces, especially an unseeded opponent like Mayer. Rafa had a perfect 2-0 record against the Argentine veteran entering Saturday's match, but he was well aware of the tools that Mayer would bring to the table, per ATPWorldTour.com.
"He's very powerful when he serves (and hits his) forehand," Nadal said. "His backhand is also really good. He's really dangerous as a player. I know him well."
Nadal may have had respect for Mayer's game, but he didn't show it in his latest stirring performance in Paris. While Mayer was able to score a hold of serve to open the match, things went severely downhill for him from there.
Rafa proceeded to rip off five consecutive games, including two breaks of Mayer's serve. Although Mayer did manage to take two games in the set, it was essentially a perfect start for Nadal.
He absolutely destroyed Mayer on serve as he lost just three service points in the entire set. Conversely, Mayer was under 50 percent. Also, Nadal played nearly mistake-free tennis with just two unforced errors to Mayer's eight.
As pointed out by Carole Bouchard of L'Equipe, Mayer resembled little more than a sacrificial lamb one-third of the way through the contest:
Mayer as the piece of meat sacrificed for the Nadal lion. 6-2 for the King of the Tennis Jungle. Don't worry Mr Mayer, it'll be quick.— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) May 31, 2014
After demolishing Mayer in the first set, most probably expected more of the same in the second. Early on it looked as though that would be the case, especially when Rafa was able to secure a quick break in the third service game of the match, per Joe Fleming of USA Today:
Nadal up a set and a break on Mayer (AP) pic.twitter.com/YYCYaeY790— Joe Fleming (@ByJoeFleming) May 31, 2014
Facing a 4-2 deficit, Mayer dug deep and put some pressure on his favored foe. Following a hold of serve, Mayer was finally able to gain some traction as he converted his first break point of the match, according to Roland Garros on Twitter:
Nadal held to make it 5-5, but Mayer had a golden opportunity to put a ton of pressure on Rafa. Mayer fell behind early in his service game, however he was able to claw his way back into it. Unfortunately for Mayer, the king of clay was simply too much to handle as he secured a massive break, per Tennis Now:
OMG Rafa kisses the line with a beautiful impromptu lob and he's got the break for 6-5, serving for a cozy two sets to love lead v. Mayer.— TennisNow (@Tennis_Now) May 31, 2014
Rafa's sparkling lob had to be demoralizing for Mayer, and it showed in the ensuing game. Nadal held without incident to take the hard-fought set 7-5, per Dan King of The Sun:
Nadal had to work a lot harder for the second set, 7-5, but now just one away from the fourth round— Dan King (@DanKing_1974) May 31, 2014
Nadal broke Mayer to open the third set and it looked as though he would roll to a quick victory. Mayer was unwilling to go down without a fight, however, as he broke right back:
Nadal is broken back to 1-1 in the third. THis is a conspiracy to make me miss every deadline.— Dan King (@DanKing_1974) May 31, 2014
They proceeded to trade holds of serve before Nadal regained his previous advantage by breaking Mayer again to take a 3-2 lead:
Mayer fought hard all match long, but that seemed to be his breaking point, as he couldn't win another game for the remainder of the match. Few players have a better killer instinct than Rafa, and it was on full display in the final set.
Despite Nadal's somewhat inconsistent and uncharacteristic clay-court play entering Roland Garros, his advancement to the fourth round comes as a surprise to nobody. He appears to be in elite form, and it is entirely possible that no one can stop him at this point.
If Nadal is somehow upended in the fourth round, it will go down as one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history. Serbia's Dusan Lajovic has surprised many by winning three matches at Roland Garros, but now he'll have to face the greatest clay-court player of all time in a true David vs. Goliath matchup.
Even though Lajovic is aware of the challenge ahead of him, he is excited to lock horns with one of the best tennis players in history:
As well as Lajovic has played in Paris, he will be no match for Nadal at his own personal playground. Things will definitely get tricky after that for Rafa, as a rematch of last year's final against countryman David Ferrer looms in the quarterfinals.
How will Nadal fare in the 2014 French Open?
The draw then dictates a potential semifinal clash with Andy Murray prior to a final meeting with either Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer. Ferrer and Murray have the talent and clay-court acumen to give Nadal some trouble, but the biggest obstacle standing in his way is Djoker.
Nole beat Nadal in the Rome Masters final leading up to the French Open, so there is a belief that Djokovic could be the guy to put an end to Nadal's incredible run at Roland Garros.
If that epic battle does ultimately come to fruition, it has the potential to be the greatest final in French Open history. It would essentially be a coin flip, which isn't something that can often be said for a Nadal match in Paris.
Nadal and Djokovic certainly have work to do first, but it looks more and more likely with each passing round.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter