Tennis

Focused on Trying to Find Better Level

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.

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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.”

Tennis Express

The 13-time Roland Garros champion said he’s practicing well, but hasn’t been able to yet transfer it to the match court.

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.”

Photo credit: Getty

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