The Barcelona Open is the next stop in the clay season and while many of the top contenders seem to be missing from the action, Nadal is yet again ready to assert his dominance on clay.
However, in the very first round itself, Rafa survived a huge scare as the Spaniard went down a set against Belarus qualifier Ilya Ivashka but used his experience and immaculate skill to bounce back and claim the match 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
On the other hand, world number 27 Fabio Fognini departed the tournament in the most bizarre of circumstances as the Italian defaulted because of verbally abusing the line judge.
The 33-year-old was trailing world number 147 Bernabe Zapata Miralles 6-0, 4-4 when he clashed with the official and was defaulted by the umpire for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Nadal’s struggles continue-
Rafael Nadal hasn’t been in the best of touches lately having earlier lost to Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Open. And while there was no denying Rublev’s tennis extraordinaire, Rafa himself later admitted that he wasn’t in the best of touches.
The qualifier, Ilya Ivashka ranked 108 spots lower in the FedEx ATP Rankings than the World No. 3 and seeking his first Top 10 victory, earned the first break to go up 2-0.
The top seed however stayed within touching distance, despite an uncharacteristically high unforced error count (two winners to nine unforced errors in the first set). But a second break of serve sealed the set for Ivashka after 53 minutes.
The Spaniard set the tone early on in the second with his first break of the match, connecting with his signature inside-out forehands to punish the Belarusian’s backhand wing. Nadal powered ahead to claim the second set and earned the decisive break in the third at 4-3 to seal the victory.
“He played well. He played at a very high level, and I didn’t, especially at the beginning,” Nadal said in an on-court interview. “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.”
Rafa would next face an old adversary in Kei Nishikori, who would be looking to reach the tennis stratosphere once again after an extended break and a career-threatening injury.
Top seeds advance in Barcelona-
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Monte Carlo champion and second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas eased past Spain’s Jaume Munar 6-0, 6-2.
It was a far more comfortable afternoon for the Greek than the last time he faced Munar.
That was at the 2020 French Open where he dropped the first two sets before winning their first round tie.
Monte Carlo runner-up Rublev, seeded three, also progressed with a comfortable 6-4, 6-3 win over Italian lucky loser Federico Gaio.