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Rome Masters 2014: Nadal overcomes stiff challenge from Youzhny

The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2014 - Day Five

Rafael Nadal

Round 3: Rafael Nadal def. Mikhail Youzhny 7-6(4) 6-2 6-1 

Rafael Nadal overcame windy conditions and another inspired opponent in Russian Mikhail Youzhny as he came back from a set and a break down to reach the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters.

The match was in Nadal’s control for most of the first set and then most of the second and third sets as well, but there was a brief period of time when it seemed like the Russian would produce a shock upset, especially with Nadal being increasingly erratic.

The bull from Mallorca eventually found his range and reeled off 11 straight games after being down 2-0 in the second set, shutting the door on the Russian.

Nadal started a bit sluggish today, but quickly overcame it, as he started his service game well. There was clear intent to hit his top spinning forehands deep on Youzhny’s side. Nadal posted an ace and another service down the line to make it 1-1.

Nadal had an opportunity to push Youzhny to deuce on his next game, but he hit long. He was spot on in his own service games though and the standard one-two was working to perfection. He was still making some uncharacteristic errors, but they weren’t on the important points. He finished the game with a sliced drop volley.

The longest game of the match followed. At 30-30 on Youzhny’s serve, Nadal countered his drop shot with a superb chip of his own, past the Russian to reach his first break point. Youzhny saved it with a forehand down the line, but again conceded break point with a mishit drop volley. This time he approached the net to take the ball in the air and smash it past Nadal. A scintillating exchange followed with Nadal retrieving the ball from end to end and a backhand error at the net gave him another break point. This time Nadal didn’t find enough time to put in his forehand down the line.

With the wind swirling and sand blowing on the players’ eyes, it was difficult for them to be accurate with their shots. Youzhny reached game point, but Nadal responded with a sliced shot from the baseline which was impossible to retrieve. This continued for some more time as both players refused to concede the game. Youzhny finally took the game when Nadal hit a weak return long. He saved 4 break points in all.

Nadal continued to hold his serve comfortably with his sizzling forehands in place. On Youzhny’s next game, he reached two break points, bringing Youzhny to the net and then placing a winner past him. He hit a backhand wide, giving Nadal a break.

Youzhny offered little resistance as Nadal continued to roll away taking a 5-3 lead. The Spaniard produced the shot of the tournament in the next game. At 30-30, he almost slipped, but still managed to return it into Youzhny’s court. The Russian smashed it to the corner but Nadal produced an amazing backhand down the line winner to reach break point. Youzhny managed to hold on to his serve though, making Nadal serve for the set.

A string of errors followed from Nadal. Two double faults were followed by a long forehand, giving the 14th seed two break points to get right back into the game. He saved one, but Youzhny forced him back on the next point and Nadal hit long to give Youzhny the break back.

Youzhny powered on with the confidence of getting the crucial break. He held serve to take the lead 6-5. Nadal was back to his usual serving form and forced a tie breaker to decide the first set.

Youzhny took the first point of his serve and then led 2-0 when Nadal mishit to the net. Nadal made another mistake, giving an ominous 3-0 lead to Youzhny. Surprisingly, he conceded both points on his next two serves, making it 3-2.

Nadal took his next service point, but Youzhny produced a superb sliced drop shot at the net to again gain a mini-break advantage. The Russian got both points on his serve this time, moving Nadal around the court, to get to three set points.

Nadal saved one with a wide serve, but had no chance on the second, as Youzhny took his first ever set off Nadal on clay with an overhead smash.

Nadal was in further trouble at the start of the second set. He missed two easy forehands, giving Youzhny triple break points. The loss in the first set seemed to have put a dent in Nadal’s confidence, but he bounced back, saving three break points in a row with some good first serves wide to his opponent’s backhand. He reached game point, but after a carefully constructed point, mistimed a drop shot at the net to go back to deuce. He double faulted to give Youzhny another break point, but saved it again. This continued for some more time, with the game already into its ninth minute. Nadal gifted Youzhny another break point with yet another mishit to the net. Seemingly in control of the point, Nadal hit another drop shot, but Youzhny was there, and hit it straight at Nadal and he had no way of returning it.

Youzhny easily consolidated the break, as the errors continued to flow from Nadal’s racquet. The match seemed to be totally in Youzhny’s command now, as he had reeled off five of the last six games.

Nadal didn’t stem the errors, but managed to hold on, to take the score to 2-1. Nadal was trying his best to pass Youzhny, but wasn’t getting much success with his shots, which were frustrating him. But he brought the goods out again, and this time with success, as he converted on break point with a spinning forehand down the line.

Nadal was forced to work hard in the next game, but came up trumps. He had not been able to impose his forehand on Youzhny’s single-handed backhand in this match until then, but he did exactly that, as he reached break point on Youzhny’s serve. The Russian countered by going behind Nadal, but Nadal was relentless. He forced another break point, but again couldn’t convert with an error. The errors were costly and frustrating, but Nadal managed to remain focused. On the next break point, Nadal hit a powerful forehand cross court and followed it up by hitting an unreachable winner in the same direction.

Just when Nadal needed a confident hold, he faltered again, giving Youzhny a chance to break. He steadied himself and consolidated the break, as his box heaved a sigh of relief.

Nadal continued to grind his way through the match, and Youzhny seemed a bit tired as he conceded three set points to Nadal. He saved one but flailed a forehand long, giving Nadal the second set. The world no.1 had silently reeled off six games in a row in the second set.

Nadal started serving in the third and Youzhny seemed sapped. The top seed stormed with an ace to hold to love. He had an awfully low break point conversion rate until then with only 4/12 converted, but he converted when Youzhny made an unforced error, giving him a 2-0 lead.

As the world no.1 grew in confidence with each passing game, the reverse was happening to Youzhny. Nadal held again, and Youzhny lost his serve again, as the doors were rapidly closing on him.

5-0 followed soon, and so did a “Come on” from Nadal. The end was quick. The people on court almost expected that Nadal was going to bagel him. He reached match point, but flailed long. It was almost as if Youzhny had won the match, when Youzhny screamed his lungs out after winning his first game in close to two sets.

Nadal closed out the match in style, and it must have put to rest any doubts he had in his ability to come back. True the conditions were windy and tough, and the opponent was troubling as well, but its his indomitable spirit which saw him through yet again.

Nadal will face Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. The last time the two met, Murray was yet to be a Grand Slam champion. A lot has changed since then, and it should be a cracker of a contest.

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