Madrid Masters 2014: Rafael Nadal rolls on, faces Tomas Berdych in quarters
Rafael Nadal had to fight off some late resistance from Jarko Nieminen, but he held strong to foray into the Madrid Open quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-4 victory.
The Spaniard, coming into the tournament on the back of his worst European claycourt run in a decade, looked sharp for most of the match, and was starting to look like he was getting into his usual claycourt rhythm again.
Nieminen served to start the match, and had to fend off a break point immediately. But he eventually held on, as Nadal made a couple of errors of his forehand.
Nadal was aggressive in his opening service game, but so was Nieminen. His quick reflexes helped him win a point with Nadal at the net, and he fired a backhand winner to take the game to deuce. Having been broken in his opening game yesterday, Nadal was in no mood to make the same mistake again, as he used his one-two ploy to corner the Finn.
The next game was vintage Nadal. Three passing shots one after another left Nieminen staring at three break points in no time. The passers were exquisitely placed, and seemed to signal Rafa’s return to his claycourt form of old. Nieminen saved one break point with a passing shot, but again approached the net and mistimed his volley to give Nadal the first break of the match.
The top ranked player continued with his onslaught and raced to a 3-1 lead with a love hold. Nieminen was now under considerable pressure to hold serve if he had to have any chance of fighting for the set, but Nadal eked out two break points with a superb backhand. Nieminen managed to save one, but fired a forehand long on the second, giving Nadal a double break for 4-1.
Nadal had his opponent exactly where he wanted and he forced him to serve to stay in the match. Nieminen didn’t do a very good job of it, but there wasn’t much he could have done anyway with Nadal finding the lines time and again. Nadal gained three break points again with a fine overhead smash, and won the set off a Nieminen forehand error.
Nadal’s backhand was close to perfection as he punished any ball which came to that side with incredible angle and guile.
In the opening game of the second set Nieminen forced a break point, but Nadal was calm and assured as he served out wide and unleashed his top-spin forehand down the line to erase it.
Nieminen couldn’t apply much pressure on Nadal in his own service games though, as he showed inconsistency off both sides. Unforced errors cost him as he gifted Nadal three break points and Nadal got the break easily with a forehand pass. At this point, Nadal had reeled off eight games in succession.
Nadal hasn’t been ‘relentless’ of late, but he sure was in the third game as he stormed to a 3-0 lead. The Finn finally held on in the next game with a couple of good serves, stopping Nadal’s run of nine consecutive games.
Then, out of nowhere, Nieminen forced three break points again. It was a mark of how tough the match was, that he raised his arms in triumph after guessing the right way when Nadal came to the net. The Spaniard saved one but he hit wide, as Nieminen got the break back, making the match interesting. He continued to impress as he got on a streak of his own to level the set at 3-3.
Nadal followed that up with a confident service game, but so did Nieminen. At 4-4, 15-30, Nadal was in a spot of bother, and he got a time violation as well. He responded brilliantly, with a drop shot at the net. Nieminen forced a break point, but Nadal stepped up again and used his inside-out forehand to erase the deficit.
This was in stark contrast to his match against Almagro in Barcelona. There, Nadal floundered in the tight moments, but here he responded the way we have come to expect from him. Nieminen was forced to serve to stay in the match.
A couple of rash errors gave Nadal a chance at a break and ultimately, three match points. With the crowd cheering the home star, Nadal converted on his third break point when Nieminen fired a forehand long again, giving Nadal a straight sets victory.
Though the score line looked tighter than the previous game, Nadal had actually improved from his performance yesterday. He looked sharp on his forehand and backhand sides and didn’t make too many crucial errors.
He faces Tomas Berdych for a place in the semifinals. The Czech last defeated him in 2006.