PARIS – For nine minutes, Yannick Hanfmann dared to dream as the world number 184 from Germany carved out four break points on the serve of Rafael Nadal.
But the 11-time champion saved them all in the first game of the match and that was about as good as it got for Hanfmann as the world number two cruised to a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win on Monday.
“That first game was disappointing,” said 27-year-old Hanfmann, who arrived in Paris with just one win to his name this year.
He had earned just $3,600 since the turn of the year while Nadal has already banked $3.7 million in the same period.
“I feel like in the first game I did some good returns. And obviously Rafa is also a bit nervous.
“You can see that. I took my chances there. And, yeah, I wish I would have seen what happens after maybe a break and then maybe I can hold and maybe it goes a little bit differently. But, you know...”
In the end, Hanfmann became Nadal's 87th victim at Roland Garros but he took comfort from seeing the great Spaniard from up close.
“Now I know how it feels to have a guy like him, he has such a unique game on clay.
“To feel his ball, how it feels on my strokes. I tried to play some lefties and told them, 'Okay, maybe you can try to be Rafa a little bit,' but nobody can be him.”
For 32-year-old Nadal, next up is - another German qualifier in the shape of Yannick Maden, ranked at 114.
He had won just one match on tour in 2019 before he doubled that tally on Monday by beating Belgium's Kimmer Coppejans 7-6 (7/0), 7-5, 6-3 to give him a second round clash with Nadal.
Like Hanfmann, 29-year-old Maden played college tennis in the United States and until Monday had yet to register a win at the Slams.
“With YouTube you can find things,” said Nadal of the potential pitfalls of facing the relative unknowns of Hanfmann and Maden.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)