It’s been a tough couple of days for defending champion Rafael Nadal. The King of Clay has felt far from his best on the clay in his last two matches with two hugely different opponents in John Isner and Pablo Andujar. Andujar, a fellow good looking Spaniard, put the world number one to work for three hours just two days after Isner pushed Rafa in four hours to five sets.
Nadal eventually came out on top, winning 7-5, 6-3, 7-6. It was a very difficult match for the man desperately clinging to his number one ranking, being force to fight back from 1-5 in the third set to try and prevent dropping another set on his most beloved of courts.
The French Open has always been hugely important for Nadal’s confidence for the rest of the season. When he wins he only grows in confidence and form as he heads into the grass court season. The one time he lost, in 2009, it wasn’t pretty for quite some time despite the well documented injury problems. Needless to say Nadal’s confidence was restored when he reclaimed the title last year. If Nadal continues to struggle over the coming days it will only further dent his confidence which has been damaged by four consecutive final loses to Novak Djokovic.
The match against Andujar was hugely affected by the wind, which is always a great equalizer in tennis. Pablo played his part, going after Nadal, working hard in long rallies and trying the one thing that works best against Rafa – hard and flat to the forehand on the run.
In the first set there were a series of breaks. First Nadal broke for a 4-2 lead then Andujar broke back, then Nadal broke again but was broken again when he was serving for the set at 5-3. Eventually Nadal, despite at times looking somewhat frustrated with the conditions and his opponent, took the set 7-5.
Nadal opened the second set with a quick break 2-0, quickly found himself down 15-40 in his next game. A netted forehand gave Andujar the break back. At 4-3 an epic 32 shot rally in which Nadal wore Pablo down with his forehand saw Nadal gain a break point for a chance to serve for the set – this time he made no mistake, taking it 6-3.
The third set saw an increasingly frustrated world number one being out-hit by Andujar. Pablo seemed to be employing the tactic of many of Nadal’s recent opponents – play super aggressive tennis, come to the net whenever you can, hit hard and flat to his forehand when he’s on the run. The tactics worked really well for Andujar as he raced to a 5-1, 40-0 lead.
Andujar had two more set points on Nadal’s serve in the next game and another on his own serve but Rafa’s forehand saved him from a fourth set time and time again.
In the tiebreak Andujar’s brilliance was still on display as Nadal slowly wore him down with some lengthy rallies. Pablo showed some great anticipation while Nadal played some, at times, conservative shots, keeping the ball in play and running around his backhand whenever he had an opportunity.
At times Nadal not only looked frustrated but also tired. His face told the tales of his irritation with himself, the conditions and his struggle to win the match, it also showed how Nadal feels about spending seven hours on court in his first two matches.
Nadal now faces Croatian Antonio Veic. To get to the third round Veic played three and a half sets with Pablo Cuevas who has to retire and then beat Nikolay Davydenko 6-1 in the fifth set. It will be interesting to see how both Veic and Nadal recover from their lengthy matches.
“I think for moments I played a little bit better. For moments I’m sure I didn’t play well. I think in general that the match wasn’t good for me. But not for the wind, because I am practicing well, but I am not playing very well when I play matches. That’s why. No excuse. If you play good, it seems like there is much less wind. If you are playing bad, it seems like a hurricane.
The problem is I am not playing aggressive enough. Probably I am playing a little bit nervous, and that’s why my legs didn’t work as well as usual.”