If Pablo Andujar had looked at some statistics before coming into his semifinal match against Nadal, he would’ve not fancied his chances too much. Nadal had only ever lost one ATP tour semifinal match on clay and that was 11 years ago against Carlos Moya. Since then he was on a 48-match semifinal win streak on clay.
But the way Andujar played today, he sure looked like he would be rewriting the history books. Such was his level of play that you could be forgiven for thinking he was a top 10 player. To further worsen things for Nadal, he was clearly not at his best today, and his back issues seemed to have cropped up again. But he carried on, and ensured there wouldn’t be two upsets in the semifinals in Rio.
Nadal started serving in the first set, and Andujar stepped up immediately. He gained two break points in the first game, thanks to two errors from Nadal. Nadal saved one with a solid attack to Andujar’s backhand and the second with an ace. Andujar gained another break point and looked to have sealed it with Nadal going for a weak return to the net, but he dumped his volley to the net. Then came another opportunity when Nadal fired a forehand long and this time, Andujar made no mistake as he smashed the ball deep and broke Nadal. Andujar did well to consolidate the break too, attacking Nadal’s backhand and pushing him around.
Nadal won his first game of the match in the third game. He was still slightly erroneous, but he adjusted himself quickly and used the one-two play to counter Andujar’s returns.
The players continued to hold serve, with Nadal going for his shots, but he was misplacing some routine would-be winners wide and wasn’t able to apply the pressure he wanted to on Andujar.
At 4-2, 0-30, the pressure was really on Nadal. He was uncharacteristic in his shot-making and serving, and Andujar disposed a weak second serve to earn a break point. He wasted the opportunity by missing a forehand, but got another chance with a similar winner off Nadal’s second serve. This time he made no mistake, as he took another weak serve on the rise and smacked it out of Nadal’s reach to get his second break of the match and a chance to serve for the set.
Nadal didn’t exactly make Andujar work for winning the set, but it went to deuce anyway due to Andujar’s own errors. He didn’t make a mistake after that though, and closed the set when Nadal’s attempted drop shot fell short.
Nadal started the second set strong, as expected, and pushed Andujar all the way in the second game. He was unlucky when a superb passing shot fell just wide, and Andujar held on.
It was Andujar’s turn to push Nadal, and the latter’s lack of first serves hurt him. But the World No. 1 saved a break point and held on with a commanding forehand.
Nadal pumped himself up, and got a look in the next game with two break points. Andujar saved one, but couldn’t keep his next shot from sailing long as Nadal finally broke him to take a 3-1 lead.
It was apparent that Nadal wasn’t at his best, but his determination was as strong as ever, and it kept fuelling him. That, and his trademark forehand down the line, which was in working order again.
Nadal made still more mistakes, missing an easy overhead on Andujar’s serve. What’s more, he touched his back after that point. Another missed forehand gave Andujar the game.
Nadal got himself into a small hole at 4-2, 0-30, but made three huge serves, two of them aces, to get a foothold back in the game. Andujar still pushed him to deuce, and got to break point again, but Nadal raced to his drop shot and put it past him. He held on for a 5-2 lead.
Andujar then produced a brilliant service game and all the shots he hit remained out of reach for Nadal. But in the next game Nadal produced his best shot of the match after gaining two set points, a perfectly sliced drop shot on the run, to take the match into a decider.