Nadal faces childhood pal Gasquet, Sharapova edges closer to Serena duel

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.

Serena to wear catsuit again

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.

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