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Triple Feature: Big 3 in Action at Roland Garros
Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal each took the court for their second-round matches in Paris; how did they fare on Thursday?
Published Jun 03, 2021
WATCH: Roger Federer joins Novak Djokovic into the third round after a dramatic four-setter with Marin Cilic.
The top half of the Roland Garros men’s draw features three of the sport’s biggest names. Top seed Novak Djokovic is projected to play Roger Federer in the quarterfinals while 13-time champion Rafael Nadal is the likely opponent for either in the semis. With all three in action for their second-round clashes, how did the Big 3 fare on Thursday?
 Novak Djokovic d. Pablo Cuevas, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
Djokovic’s quest for a second Roland Garros crown continued with a decisive win over Cuevas, a former Top 20 player who has reached the third round in Paris four times. Yet to drop a set on the terre battue, the world No. 1 has looked better with each passing week of the clay-court season, shaking off an Internazionali BNL d’Italia defeat to Nadal by winning an 83rd ATP title at home in Belgrade.
"I'm playing well, feeling great," Djokovic said after the match. "I'm ready to go deep in this tournament. Hopefully that's gonna be the case, but I'll take it match by match, and so far the two matches that I have played have been played on a high quality."
Playing Cuevas for the first time on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Djokovic weathered an early exchange of breaks to take a crucial eighth game and serve out the opening set after digging out of a 0-40 deficit.
The second set continued in much the same fashion as the Serb looked far more comfortable on serve as he raced ahead 5-1 and edged into a two-set lead shortly thereafter.
Cuevas began to make in-roads on the Djokovic serve but struggled to break the top seed, who broke to open the third set and staved off four break points in his next two serve games to edge closer to the finish line.
Much as the Uruguayan pressurized the 18-time Grand Slam champion, Djokovic came through with aplomb, throwing in an audacious backhand volley and forehand angle to open his attempt to serve out the match, ending the contest with his tenth ace of the day.
In a quality match from both, the world No. 1 ended the match with 32 winners to 22 unforced errors, while Cuevas finished with one less winner and four more errors.
Up next for Djokovic is Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, a former Top 50 standout who is in the midst of a career-best run at Roland Garros after four-set wins over Salvatore Caruso and James Duckworth. Djokovic last played Berankis in Paris last fall, losing just five games in three sets.
 Roger Federer d. Marin Cilic, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2
Taking the court shortly after Djokovic on Court Philippe Chatrier, Federer renewed his rivalry with Cilic, whom he’s beaten nine times in ten previous encounters.
Cilic’s lone win over the Swiss Maestro came en route to his 2014 US Open title, though he has twice pushed him to five sets in Grand Slam encounters at Wimbledon and the 2018 Australian Open final.
A bit of up-and-downs in the second and third sets," Federer said after the match, "[but] the good thing, I feel like I come out of a match like this and I know why it was up and down. And then that I was able to attain a solid level once he did break back in the third set and things were looking dangerous for me, that I was able to step up a gear, stay with him, and then pull away from him, I think that gives me a lot of confidence.
Federer’s return to action in 2021 has been bumpier than expected, having lost his last two matches heading into Roland Garros and missing both the Australian and Miami Open. A straightforward win over Denis Istomin seemed to get the 20-time Grand Slam champion back on track as he won a perfunctory opening set over Cilic behind two breaks of serve.
Cilic finished the 2018 season ranked in the Top 10 but knee injuries have left him out of sorts for much of the last three years, winning back-to-back matches just three times so far in 2021. Still, the 32-year-old rebounded in the second set with a 3-0 advantage and opportunities for a double-break lead.
Frustration began to boil over for Federer, who was issued a time violation in the following game and ultimately dropped serve a second time as Cilic evened the match at one set apiece.
Calming down early in the third, the 2009 French Open champion eased into a 3-1 lead, only for Cilic to dig out of another tough service game and break straight back, forcing a tiebreaker. Federer took a strong lead in the ensuing Sudden Death and never looked back, clinching it with an ace.
The No. 8 seed took that momentum into the fourth set, holding at love for a 5-2 lead and clinching the match in the next game, forcing a Cilic backhand beyond the baseline.
Standing between Federer and his first Grand Slam second week appearance since the 2020 Australian Open is German Dominik Koepfer, who upset No. 30 seed Taylor Fritz in four sets earlier in the day.
 Rafael Nadal leads Richard Gasquet 6-0, 7-5, 6-2
Nobody did beat Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row, but playing on his birthday, Nadal closed out the triple feature aiming to become the sixth person in the Open Era to do just that—this time against childhood rival Richard Gasquet.
Despite coming up the junior records together, the 13-time Roland Garros champion has enjoyed the mental edge over Gasquet for the entirety of their pro careers, and hasn't dropped a set to him since 2008.
There was nothing to indicate that stat would change in their early exchanges on Thursday evening as Nadal won the first seven games before Gasquet could even get on the board.
The second set, by contrast, proved to be one of their most competitive since 2015, as the Frenchman thrilled the home crowd (presumably watching at home as Chatrier had since been cleared due to the curfew) by rallying from 2-5 down to even the set at five games apiece.
Serving to force a tiebreak, Nadal capitalized on a weak second serve from Gasquet and blasted a forehand deep into the court to secure a two-set lead.
The third set played out as an amalgamation of the first two; while the former world No. 7 kept things close at times, Nadal proved indomitable when it mattered most to secure another straightforward win in two hours and 14 minutes.