Top seed Rafael Nadal was pushed to the brink by qualifier Ilya Ivashka on Wednesday, but the 11-time champion rallied from a set down to kick off his Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell campaign with a victory on his namesake Centre Court.
The 34-year-old Spaniard raised his level after dropping a tight opening set, roaring back to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory after two hours and 20 minutes on Pista Rafa Nadal.
“He played well. He played at a very high level, and I didn’t, especially at the beginning,” Nadal said in an on-court interview. “And then I think I changed a little bit the way I played. I was more aggressive later, and the match changed a lot. I’m happy I [fought] hard today to be in the third round. That’s what I needed after the loss at Monte-Carlo.”
Rublev ‘Feels Angry’, But Finds A Way To Win In Barcelona
Nadal arrived in Barcelona looking to shake off a Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters quarter-final upset at the hands of Andrey Rublev, but he quickly found himself in trouble as Ivashka made a fast start. The qualifier, ranked 108 spots lower in the FedEx ATP Rankings than the World No. 3 and seeking his first Top 10 victory, earned the first break to go up 2-0.
Nadal’s 38-0 record on clay against qualifiers seemed to be in danger as 27-year-old Ivashka kept the Spaniard under pressure with his flat and powerful hitting. The top seed stayed within touching distance, despite an uncharacteristically high unforced error count (two winners to nine unforced errors in the first set). But a second break of serve sealed the set for Ivashka after 53 minutes.
The Spaniard set the tone early on in the second with his first break of the match, connecting with his signature inside-out forehands to punish the Belarusian’s backhand wing. Nadal powered ahead to claim the second set, and earned the decisive break in the third at 4-3 to seal the victory.
“I’m sure that I’m going to have the chance to play better, and I’m going to fight for it,” Nadal said. “I have the confidence that I’m not very far [from playing well], even if the last two matches [here and in Monte-Carlo] haven’t been perfect. But here I am, and I am with the right energy to try hard. It’s a process… I’m confident that by working every day I’m going to find [right] the solutions.”
With the victory Nadal extended his record in Barcelona to 62-4, and booked a spot into the round of 16 for the 16th consecutive time. He will next face former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori, who needed three sets to take down 13th seed Cristian Garin 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-1. The Japanese player saved nine of the 13 break points he faced en route to victory in two hours and 23 minutes.
Elsewhere at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona 1899, Diego Schwartzman was near the exit, but he rallied past Frances Tiafoe 3-6, 7-5, 6-1. Tiafoe led 6-3, 5-3, but he was unable to close out the fourth seed.
“I think I was playing a good match,” Schwartzman said in his on-court interview. “Tennis is crazy sometimes. I’m always trying to battle.”
Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles also advanced to the third round after leading 6-0, 4-4 (def.) against ninth seed Fabio Fognini. Fognini was defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct after verbally abusing a line umpire. Zapata Miralles set an all-Spanish clash against sixth seed Pablo Carreno Busta, who cruised past Jordan Thompson 6-4, 6-0.
Did You Know?
Rafael Nadal won 41 straight Barcelona matches between 2005-2014, sweeping titles in 2005-09 and 2011-13. (He did not play in 2010.)