Struggling Nadal rallies to reach Barcelona Open last 16

Barcelona, Apr 21 (EFE).- Rafael Nadal suffered much more than expected in his opening match at the Barcelona Open, but he overcame a poor start to beat qualifier Ilya Ivashka 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday and book his place in the round of 16.

The uncharacteristically high unforced error count and struggles on serve that led to the world No. 3’s shock Monte-Carlo Masters exit last week carried over into the first set of his match against the 111th-ranked Belarusian.

Ivashka broke serve at the start and end of the first set to stun the 11-time champion, whose nine unforced errors and two winners in the opener got him in trouble against a solid opponent.

But a determined Nadal struck back in the second set, earning his first break of Ivashka’s serve in the opening game and then scoring a second service break in the fifth game to take a 4-1 lead.

The Spaniard went on to clinch the second set comfortably but seemed to lack confidence once again in the decider, opting to stick to a defensive approach until a visibly nervous Ivashka lost his serve at love to hand Nadal a pivotal 4-3 lead that proved to be decisive.

“He played well. He played at a very high level, and I didn’t, especially at the beginning,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said afterward.

“And then I think I changed a little bit the way I played. I was more aggressive later, and the match changed a lot. I’m happy I (fought) hard today to be in the third round. That’s what I needed after the loss at Monte-Carlo,” he added.

The 34-year-old great was upset by Russian Andrey Rublev in the Monte-Carlo Masters quarterfinals, saying afterward that his serve had been “a disaster.”

Nadal will next take on Japan’s Kei Nishikori, a 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-1 winner Wednesday over Chile’s Cristian Garin, in Thursday’s round of 16.

In other round-of-32 action on Wednesday, Monte-Carlo Masters champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No. 5, cruised past Spanish wildcard Jaume Munar 6-0, 6-2, the seventh-ranked Rublev defeated Italian lucky loser Federico Gaio 6-4, 6-3 and ninth-ranked Argentine Diego Schwartzman rallied to defeat American Frances Tiafoe 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.

The Barcelona Open is a tune-up event for the French Open, which has been postponed by one week due to coronavirus concerns and will be held from May 30 to June 13.

Nadal, regarded by most as the greatest clay-court player of all time, will be seeking his 14th Roland Garros crown and a record-setting 21st Grand Slam men’s singles title this year in Paris. EFE


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