Neme­sis Nadal as curfew in­ter­rupts thrilling duel

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT -

years ago had been when would ten­nis see the real Djokovic again. The an­swer was now.

Djokovic gives Nadal a challenge no other player can. Pin­ning the Ser­bian in his back­hand cor­ner, Nadal’s num­ber one tac­tic, only plays to Djokovic’s strength, and his speed and abil­ity to not just soak up pace but send it back with in­ter­est left his op­po­nent look­ing rushed.

Nadal also had the near five­hour match against Juan Martin del Potro on Wed­nes­day in his legs and, af­ter sav­ing two break points in the fifth game, it was no sur­prise to see Djokovic move 4-3 ahead be­fore serv­ing out the set to love.

Only seven of their pre­vi­ous 51 meet­ings had been won by the player who lost the open­ing set, so it was a ma­jor boost to Djokovic’s hopes, but he knew when he failed to take any of three break points early in the se­cond that he had given Nadal a way back in.

Djokovic re­cov­ered from a poor ser­vice game with an ex­cel­lent re­turn­ing one to get back to 2-3 but Nadal’s fore­hand was at its snarling best and he broke again be­fore fend­ing off more break points to level the match.

With the time ap­proach­ing 10pm, that made it highly un­likely there would be a win­ner yes­ter­day, and both play­ers knew how im­por­tant that third set was likely to be.

The mo­men­tum was with Nadal but Djokovic’s serve, which was so dis­rupted by the el­bow prob­lems that prompted him fi­nally to have surgery in Fe­bru­ary, kept him just about out of dan­ger.

A stun­ning tie-break was a fit­ting con­clu­sion to the day’s play. Af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a poor vol­ley that left him 4-2 down, Nadal did his best to pum­mel Djokovic off the court with his fore­hand, but the Ser­bian would not yield.

Nadal will rue miss­ing two re­turns, while he got a taste of his own medicine on the se­cond chance when Djokovic feath­ered a drop shot over the net.

Djokovic was curs­ing him­self for miss­ing a re­turn as the clock ticked to 11pm but on the final lung-bust­ing rally, it was Nadal who fal­tered first.

Time to think: Rafael Nadal is play­ing catch-up but will have a while to gather his thoughts be­fore the re­sump­tion of play

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