Claycourt king Nadal favourite to regain Paris throne
For the first time in three years, Rafael Nadal will bounce through the Roland Garros gates at the peak of his powers and favourite to take his collection of French Open titles to 10.
Sevilla's devastating display to dispatch Malaga 4-1 on Saturday put them in their highest league position after 16 games for a decade and left little doubt that hiring coach Jorge Sampaoli to succeed serial winner Unai Emery was the right choice.
Emery left for Paris St Germain last summer, following three successive Europa League triumphs, and his new side's defeat at Guingamp on Saturday contrasted sharply with the whirlwind soccer his successor in Spain was offering up.
Sevilla scored four goals in 10 breathtaking first-half minutes against Malaga, with Luciano Vietto firing in the opener in the 25th and Vitolo stabbing home the fourth in the 35th to turn the second half into a procession, even after Adil Rami was sent off.
The win over their local rivals moved Sampaoli's side second in the league and there was a euphoric mood at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium even though Barcelona can leapfrog them in the table by beating Espanyol on Sunday.
"We had our opponents at our mercy, we finished the game off in one half and delighted the fans," said Sampaoli.
The Argentine has had to deal with the same obstacle that Emery hurdled so well -- the challenge of moulding a new-look squad after a spate of close-season departures.
Influential players Grzegorz Krychowiak, Ever Banega, Coke and top scorer Kevin Gameiro all left before Sampaoli began the season, yet the former Chile coach has outshone his predecessor by utterly transforming the team's style of play.
Explosive young forward Vietto, on loan from Atletico Madrid and the team's top scorer in the league with six goals, has been one of his most successful recruits along with playmaker Samir Nasri, reborn after stagnating in his final seasons at Manchester City.
As well as igniting a three-horse title race, Sampaoli has guided Sevilla into the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in seven years, with Leicester City standing in between them and a first ever quarter-final berth.
"I'm delighted with the performance and that we have earned the respect of everyone for the way we are playing," said Sampaoli.
"It's a great boost for us that will spur us on to greater things in the future."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)
PARIS Defending champion Novak Djokovic says he is excited to have created a "new vibe" by inviting Andre Agassi to work with him during the French Open which starts on Sunday.