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Dolgopolov produces a masterclass, upsets defending champion Nadal at Indian Wells

  • In a stunning upset, Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov defeated defending champion and World No.1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) at Indian Wells.
Modified 20 Dec 2019, 03:08 IST
Alexandr Dolgopolov and Rafael Nadal shake hands after their match at Indian Wells

Alexandr Dolgopolov and Rafael Nadal shake hands after their match at Indian Wells

In a thrilling match on center court at Indian Wells, Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov produced a performance of a lifetime as he overcame World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in three sets in the third round, winning 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5).

Nadal was the defending champion at Indian Wells, and hadn’t lost a set to Dolgopolov in five previous meetings, having earned a victory against him as recently as two weeks ago in the Rio Open finals.

Dolgopolov started erratically and in no time Nadal was a break up to start the match. Nadal toyed with Dolgopolov at the start of his first service game, hitting shots at impossible angles. But a double fault and some errors off both flanks took Dolgopolov to deuce. He played the next two points brilliantly and was right back into the match, as he broke Nadal to level the scores.

The next game produced some spectacular tennis from both players. Nadal controlled the first two points and took a 0-30 lead, but Dolgopolov stormed back with a brilliant drop shot winner of his own. An unforced error gave Nadal another break point, and he took it; in a weird start to the match, there were three breaks of serve in the first three games.

There were definite improvements in Nadal’s game compared to his second round encounter. He was serving better and was hitting his backhand crosscourt aggressively, something which he rarely did in the previous match.

Break point up at 1-2, Dolgopolov was out of challenges and hence could do nothing about a Nadal ace which looked long. He still had one break point left though and he converted when Nadal went long.

The entertainment continued. Both players were playing incredibly angled and precise shots but making errors as well. There was no clear momentum with either player as they struggled to hold serve. Dolgopolov finally overcame the stream of breaks of serve, holding serve for the first time in the match to lead 3-2.

Nadal then held his own serve too for the first time, with a stream of body serves.

Dolgopolov played bravely, which is the standard approach used by players against Nadal. He fearlessly unleashed his crosscourt backhand in the rallies, but wasn’t always finding the lines with them. But he managed to push Nadal to deuce at 4-3. A long rally followed, and Nadal hit a backhand long, giving Dolgopolov break point. Another forehand error gave Dolgopolov the break, to see him go up 5-3.


A nervous service game followed from the Ukrainian, with his lack of challenges hurting him. He saved a break point with a good serve and volley. He reached set point after forcing Nadal to hit a quick return long, but squandered his chance when he mishit Nadal’s top spinning forehand. After a couple more points were exchanged, Dolgopolov produced a brilliant rally, moving Nadal around and then slicing a drop shot to reach set point. He won his first set ever against Nadal on the next point, when Nadal hit a passing shot long.

This was the second time in two matches that Nadal had dropped his opening set. He bounced back in typical fashion, by first holding serve confidently and then attacking Dolgopolov’s serve. But the latter got himself out of a small hole to level at 1-1.

Both players continued to hold serve till Nadal had a look at 2-3, 30-40. He made full use of the opportunity, as he engaged Dolgopolov in a long rally, eventually forcing him to hit long.

Nadal had well and truly lifted his level of play from the first set, and he wrong-footed Dolgopolov to take a commanding 5-2 lead.

Dolgopolov forced Nadal to serve for the set with a love hold. And Nadal was made to work in his next service game, as Dolgopolov’s unorthodox forehands troubled the Spaniard. But he closed out the set on his second set point, when the Ukrainian fired into the net.

The third set started in tight fashion with both players holding serve in their opening games.

At 1-2, with Nadal serving, Dolgopolov played some aggressive tennis. Nadal countered with a sweetly timed lob of his own, and held on for 2-2.

Dolgopolov produced a masterclass in his next service game, at the end of which he got a standing ovation from the crowd. He was irrepressible and had a reply to every shot of Nadal, at the net and at the baseline.

He followed that up with a sublime return game. His groundstrokes were incredibly strong, and raced past Nadal like bullets as he converted on his first of two break points with a forehand winner.

The intensity rose after that game. Nadal was playing at his best but so was Dolgopolov, and he was outwitting Nadal at his own game. This was lights out tennis from the Ukrainian and Nadal had no response to his blinders. He led 5-2 with Nadal serving to stay in the match.

Nadal held on bravely and put the onus back on Dolgopolov to serve for the match.

The pressure seemed to have gotten to Dolgopolov though and he got tight. He handed the game easily to Nadal by hitting three erratic shots and following them up with a wide forehand.

Nadal continued to have the upper hand as he reeled off four more points, and 13 in succession, to equal the set at 5-5.

There was further drama in the next game, only this time, Dolgopolov stopped his flow of errors to pull back some momentum. He won two net points, one scampering all the way from the baseline, to take a 40-15 lead. He closed it with a stunning winner down the line, wrong-footing Nadal to take a 6-5 lead.

Nadal ensured there would be a tie break to decide the winner, with a comfortable hold.

Nadal took the early lead in the breaker when Dolgopolov completely misfired a volley on his serve. Nadal then hit one into the net, but Dolgopolov failed to take advantage of his second serve on the next point as he hit long.

Nadal got another mini break and led 3-2 when Dolgopolov couldn’t keep the ball in play after a long rally. He then produced a brilliant one-two off a first serve to take a 4-2 lead.

The Spaniard couldn’t extend his lead any further though, as he hit short and Dolgopolov put the ball away with another excellent forehand error.

Dolgopolov then produced two excellent serves which Nadal could barely get a racquet to; the Ukrainian had produced a turnaround to take it to 5-4.

Nadal hit a serve to Dolgopolov’s body to equal it at 5-5 but then missed a sitter forehand at the net to give Dolgopolov match point.

On match point, Dolgopolov struck a serve that was called an ace, but Nadal challenged and it proved to be long. He still kept his nerves together though as he cornered Nadal in the ensuing rally, and the Spaniard he had no way to return the last shot.

This was an absolutely determined and courageous effort from Dolgopolov and he fully deserved the victory. He kept the pressure on Nadal right from the start and didn’t falter at the key moments, and even after losing momentum in the third set. Nadal gave a good fight, but that one mistake in the tie break cost him dearly at the end.

Published 11 Mar 2014, 13:10 IST
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