Rafael Nadal has saved a match point to defeat Frenchman Julien Benneteau and reach the quarterfinals in Cincinnati. Nadal scraped through with the 5-7, 7-6, 6-2 win. In a nice touch the players posed with a disabled child at the start of the match, Nadal initiating contact with the child (who looked ecstatic) and his family. The little boy cheered in the stands (while wearing a Nadal Nike bull logo hat) as the world number one progressed through the match.
Julien got off to a flying start, winning the opening game after over 7 minutes, and breaking the world number one in the process. The Frenchman, who is currently ranked a career high 32, then fended off two break points in the following game to hold for a 2-0 lead. A beautiful down the line back hand to bring up another break point, followed by a cross court backhand, allowed Nadal to level at 3-3.
It wasn’t long before Benneteau worked his way into the lead, seeming to have a brilliant read on the Nadal serve. Bennetear looked nervous as he tried to serve out the set, fidgeting with his sweat bands before finally getting the job done with a fist pump as he took the first set 7-5.
After getting off to a good starting, breaking Benneteau early for a 2-0 lead, Nadal was broken twice after playing two terrible games and serving poorly. The Frenchman’s backhand was on fire as he raced to a 3-2 lead with a break in hand. When Nadal struggles on hard courts it’s because his return depth is too short, and this was no different.
Nadal’s response was immediate, getting things back on serve by spreading the court and using his forehand effectively.
In the second set tiebreak Nadal quickly found himself with a 4-1 lead but the sensational hands and net skills of Benneteau saw the Frenchman work his way to 4-3. Two aces gave Benneteau a match point with Nadal to serve. The Spaniard absorbed the pressure and let out a huge cry of “Vamos!” as he fought back to get his own set point, with friend Fernando Verdasco watching. A wild forehand from Benneteau gave Nadal the second set and a chance to have some blisters on his foot taped and Julien had his legs massaged.
During the first game of the third set Benneteau started cramping, his right leg twitching uncontrollably. Bennateau was attended at the change of ends but before long Nadal had a healthy 4-1 lead. From there Nadal accelerated to the finish line taking the match 5-7, 7-6, 6-2.
“A match like this gives me a lot of confidence. I think he played great; he played very good tennis. Especially in the beginning I wasn’t playing bad; I was playing not perfect, but well. He was playing really well, very aggressive, very good shots from his backhand, even if he arrive in not very good position. His serve works very well. Was a very difficult match. It’s important for everything. A match point? Yeah. I am doing this well. I am playing aggressive. But I need to do better the next few days.”