Down a set in his Barcelona return, Rafael Nadal found himself playing hide-and-seek.
On a day when his best tennis eluded him, the 11-time Barcelona champion found enough forehands—and summoned familiar fighting spirit—rallying past 111th-ranked qualifier Ilya Ivashka 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 into the Barcelona Open round of 16.
It was Nadal’s first match since a shaky serving performance in his three-set defeat to Andrey Rublev in last week’s Monte-Carlo quarterfinals.
Playing just his third tournament of the year, Nadal admitted he was worried over the prospect of dropping back-to-back clay-court matches for the first time in nearly two decades.
“If I was worried? Of course I was worried if I am not lying,” Nadal said. “I don’t like to lie. I am human. When you lose a first set and you are not playing well of course I am worried. At the same time I am focused on trying to change the dynamic of the match.
“More than worried I was expecting a reaction from myself. Trying to play with a different energy, trying to play more aggressive, because the first set was not possible to play like this, trying to play more forehands and that’s what I did. I think I did it better later. Even if it was not perfect the dynamic of the match changed a lot and that’s why I am here with a victory today.”
The 13-time Roland Garros champion said he’s practicing well, but hasn’t been able to yet transfer it to the match court.
— Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (@bcnopenbs) April 21, 2021
Next up for Nadal is former Barcelona champion Kei Nishikori, who topped Cristian Garin. The king of clay says his clay game is still a work in progress as he accrues more match play.
“Special to play here, a tournament I’ve had a lot of success. I enjoy it always playing here,” Nadal said. “I had huge support of the crowd during all of my tennis career.
“Tomorrow of course will be a very tough third round against Kei or Garin. I need to play better than today. I need to play well. I’m gonna try to make that happen. It’s another opportunity for me to play another great player. I am focused on trying to find a better level. I am looking forward for it to happen.”
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