(Reuters) - Maximilian Marterer probably wondered what all the fuss was about when, two games into his first match against the best claycourt player ever on Monday, he led French Open champion Rafael Nadal 2-0 on the Spaniard’s favourite patch of red dirt.
The German youngster quickly discovered just what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a pummelling by the veteran though, as Nadal swept to a 6-3 6-2 7-6(4) victory to reach the quarter-finals in Paris for a 12th time.
In doing so, 10-times champion Nadal extended his current streak of consecutive completed sets won at Roland Garros to 37.
Only Bjorn Borg (41) has a longer streak and the way Nadal, who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Sunday, is devouring the opposition it is hard to see who can stop him.
Having racked up his 900th Tour win, Nadal will now take aim at regular practise partner Diego Schwartzman after the gritty Argentine 11th seed came from two sets down to beat South Africa’s Kevin Anderson.
Asked if that would be his first big test, Nadal’s answer explained why he so rarely suffers a claycourt off-day.
“My big test is every day,” he said. “Today was an important test. I am in the quarter-finals. And the biggest test now is the next round.
“I go day by day, and I am not worried about if I had a test or I don’t have a test. I just worry about trying to be at my 100 percent for the next day that I have to play.”
Left-hander Marterer, ranked 70th in the world but rising fast, could not have wished for a better start.
As if to give him a helping hand on his Court Philippe Chatrier debut, the tennis gods gave him a flukey netcord and a Nadal double-fault to break in the opening game before he held on in confident fashion with a couple of juicy winners.
Marterer double-faulted to hand the break back but, displaying a healthy disrespect for reputations, carved out another breakpoint at 2-2, only to be wrong-footed by a superb Nadal backhand winner.
From that point on Nadal assumed control, battering huge spinning forehands that reared up off the clay.
“If he hits a forehand like really heavy, it’s of course something different compared to any other opponent you have during the year,” the 22-year-old, who once practised with Nadal, told reporters.
To his credit, Marterer arrived with a gameplan and stuck to it and when Nadal sprayed a wild forehand wide he grabbed a 3-1 lead in the third set with his opponent finally looking flat.
Nadal quickly restarted the engine, though, and responded by whipping a glorious forehand down the line at the start of the next game, on his way to breaking back.
Marterer continued to hang tough and forced Nadal into a tiebreak but his big stage debut, and invaluable lesson in claycourt tennis, ended when he hit a backhand long.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Roche and Christian Radnedge