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FRENCH OPEN LOOKAHEAD: Nadal wants more consistent forehand

PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal’s uppercut of a lefty forehand, thick with topspin, has flummoxed many opponents through the years and carried him to nine French Open titles in 10 previous appearances.

Now he thinks it could be better.

“With my forehand, I’m not as steady and consistent as in the past,” Nadal said. “Of course I can still put spin on it, but I’m not smooth enough.”

He has won 67 of 68 career matches at Roland Garros, including 36 in a row, heading into Thursday’s second-round meeting Nicolas Almagro, another Spaniard.

They know each other well, having played 13 times before.

Nadal has won 12 of those, including all four Grand Slam matches without dropping a set. That includes three quarterfinals at the French Open, in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

Almagro’s lone victory came on red clay at Barcelona in 2014, so he will be trying to become only the sixth man to beat Nadal more than once on the surface.

“Every year, we come here as favorites,” said Nadal’s coach and uncle, Toni. “This year is different. We are not the favorites. There are other players ahead of us.”

Here’s a look at what else is happening at the French Open on Thursday:

MURRAY’S STREAK

Andy Murray’s been wearing his wedding ring tied in the laces of one of his sneakers, and maybe that good-luck charm is helping. He has won all 11 matches he has played since getting married, including the first two clay-court titles of his career. Up next is 44th-ranked Joao Sousa of Portugal, who not only has lost all five past matches against Murray, but also all 12 sets they’ve played. With an eye to another second-week run in Paris after twice making the semifinals, Murray wants to win, of course, but also would prefer to win quickly. “If you aren’t playing well in the early rounds, often you have to spend a lot more time on the court … and if you get dragged into five-set matches or long four-set matches because you’re not playing that well, that can have … consequences,” the third-seeded Murray said. “You can get tired later in the tournament, if that happens.”

SCHIAVONE VS. KUZNETSOVA

In a matchup of past French Open champions, Svetlana Kuznetsova faces Francesca Schiavone on Court 1. Kuznetsova owns two major titles, from the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open. Schiavone won the trophy at Roland Garros in 2010 and was the runner-up the following year. This will be their 15th head-to-head meeting, with Kuznetsova having won nine times.

AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE

Australia is assured of having two men in the third round. No. 29 Nick Kyrgios moved to that stage without having to swing his racket when the opponent he was supposed to play Thursday, Britain’s Kyle Edmunds, withdrew with an abdominal injury. Two others from the country, No. 27 Bernard Tomic and 19-year-old wild-card entry Thanasi Kokkinakis, play each other on Court 7.

STEPHENS VS. WATSON

American Sloane Stephens, who eliminated 15th-seeded Venus Williams in the first round, meets Britain’s Heather Watson. Stephens has lost all four of their previous matchups, but that doesn’t bother her coach, Nick Saviano. “I don’t care about the past track record, because it’s history,” Saviano said. “It’s dead. It doesn’t exist in my mind.”

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