In his debut match against Jack Sock at the ATP Citi Open in Washington, D.C. Rafael Nadal simply refused to yield to circumstances and his opponent. In an instant thriller, the 35-year-old Spaniard overcame the resurgent American 6-2 4-6 7-6(1) in three hours and five minutes to progress to Round of 16 in the US capital.
While Nadal won the opening set routinely, problems started to creep up midway through the second set. The serve deserted the 20-time Major champion in the latter half of set and in the first half of the third set. An early break of serve in the deciding set meant that Nadal found himself in a precarious situation. The foot injury that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon and Tokyo Olympics earlier this season resurfaced in the deciding set and his movement on the court was evidently hampered.
But, at 1-3 in the 3rd set, despite the scoreline and pain in his foot, Nadal dug deep, competed unconditionally, and found will of steel to eventually get past his opponent, who fought gutsily as well. Nadal’s crushing forehands and his ability to make Sock play an extra ball ultimately made the difference and the Spaniard would be relieved more than anything else after bailing himself out of a dicey situation in his tournament opener.
ATP Washington Citi Open Round 2: Rafael Nadal vs Lloyd Harris
In his Round of 16 clash on Thursday, Nadal takes on South Africa’s Llyod Harris. In his opening round, Harris won against Tennys Sandgren 6-4 1-0 (RET). Except for his run to the final in Dubai, where he defeated Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov en route, the 14th seeded South African has been having a lean patch on the tour so far this year. Interestingly, Nadal and Harris do not have any history against each other on tour. This will be their first-ever meeting.
While Nadal did win against Sock, he struggled with his serving from time to time, facing ten break points. He would like to get better in that department against Harris to keep his service games shorter. After his movement on the court was jeopardized owing to the foot pain, it remains to be seen how Nadal manages. His usually-flawless mobility remains doubtful as he aims to take one day and one match at a time on his road to full recovery.
Can Harris win?
As far as Harris is concerned, he will look forward to testing his opponent’s vulnerability and extend the rallies by peppering Nadal’s backhand wing. It is important for Harris to not get carried away by the magnitude of the challenge. He can draw inspiration from his victories over Thiem, Shapovalov, and Stan Wawrinka earlier this season.
Nadal, on the other hand, will try to be more offensive to keep the points shorter in a bid to manage his pain. This troubled him in the early parts of his career, too, so he knows how to deal with it.
In what promises to be an interesting battle of generations, can Nadal, managing his foot issues, cruise to a routine win? Or will Harris, punch above his weight to record the biggest win of his career so far?
Let the action get underway in Washingtonm D.C. in the Round of 16 clash on Thursday!
Main Photo from Getty.