In front of the Italian teenager, Janik Sinner was perhaps the biggest challenge a tennis player can face-Rafa on clay.
And yet, there were some doubts on the almost 35-year-old’s prowess, who is in midst of perhaps one of his most inconsistent season on clay. Doubts which for Sinner, were like glimmers of hope. Perhaps a chance for the biggest win of his career. With the first set having been neck to neck and inevitably heading towards a tiebreak after a flurry of set points from Rafa and consequent saves from the Italian, the stage seemed set for perhaps yet another upset.
But this is Nadal we are talking about. At perhaps the most crucial of junctures, Nadal produced that extra bit of grit, that extra bit of magic, that extra bit of genius to clinch the first set and eventually the match 7-5,6-4.
Rafa lauds praise on the Italian tennager-
Sinner set the tone early on with a break in Rafa’s opening service game. The Italian was aggressive from the start, and troubled Nadal with his top spin and ability to change direction of the ball in the rallies.
But Nadal replied in kind, leveling the score a game later as both players settled into a returners’ battle.
Still on serve but with scoreboard pressure on his side, Rafa dialled up the pressure on Sinner as he served to stay in the set. Nadal created seven break points at the end of the set: three at 5-4 and four more at 6-5. Sinner raised his level on serve when it mattered most to extend his stay in the set, but when Nadal finally got a look at a second serve he battered it with the forehand to seal the opening tilt.
The second seed was in danger in the second set as Sinner again surged to an early break with a 2-1 lead as Nadal’s unforced error count began to climb.
But it would prove to be the only break point that Nadal allowed in the set, and the Spaniard recentred himself and reeled off the last four games to close out the battle.
“I think Jannik is a very complete player. He’s still improving all the time. You can’t appreciate the improvement in one day,” Nadal said. “To see the improvements of players, you need to follow them [for many] tournaments in a row. You follow him and you see that his level is higher and higher all the time.”
“He has a great backhand and a great forehand, too. I think I tried to… hold [the baseline] well, not going back too far from the court,” Nadal said. “If [you do that], you are dead. I think I held well the position on the court.” the Spaniard concluded.