Nadal seals Africa’s hope
RAFAEL Nadal clinched a closely contested first set to set the stage for a straight-set win over Kevin Andersen of South Africa in a match played in the stadium named after a fellow southpaw and first winner of Tennis Grand Slam, Rodney (The Rocket) Laver. The South African had three opportunities to take a crucial break of Nadal’s serve when the Spaniard was down 0-40 in the tenth game. Rafael nullified the three break points and won the game to go up 6-5.
When Andersen lost the first point of the 12th game, it was indicative of the psychological letdown. Although he leveled in points to 15-all, he was down 0-40 and then a muffed volley at 30-40 gave Nadal the game and the set.
Nadal lost the first point of his serve in the opening game of the second set, but a forehand winner gave him 30-all, and at 40-30, a net cord passing shot helped him take the game. He raised his hand towards Andersen in the customary apology.
Andersen struggled in his first game. Although he had game point at 40-30, Nadal leveled to Deuce and promptly capitalized on the advantage to claim the game and first break of serve. He held serve to go up 3games to love and then broke Andersen’s serve for a commanding 4 game lead. He held serve without dropping a point.
Andersen managed to hold his serve, to register on the score-board. The Spaniard took the seventh game to clinch the second see at 6-1.
Nadal exploited the only break of Andersen’s serve and claimed the third set 6-4 to win the match.
Andersen served well (78 percentage first serves) and this compelled Nadal to stay far behind his baseline to handle the deliveries by the lanky South African. Nadal’s returns landed just past the net, but the few times Andersen attempted to follow the short balls to the net, resulted in blistering passing shots from Nadal’s racket. This deterred Andersen from forays to the net to take advantage as in days of yore (serve and volley) when it was suicidal to hit a short ball.
Technically, Nadal’s game is strong all round. He takes the ball early (a la Laver), giving his opponents little respite in rallies. At a stage in the second set, Nadal won nine straight points and seven straight games before Andersen got the sixth game of that set.
A jubilant Nadal gave credit to his opponent, acknowledging he was lucky to have won the first set despite being down three break points on his serve at five-all. “Kevin played well. We know ourselves for long time, as we are the same age and played junior tournaments 16 years ago. He is a good guy, and that is what is important.”
By winning the match, Nadal has reached quarter- finals of the Australian Open, and the 28th time in Grand Slam Tournaments since he turned professional in 2001. He won the 2009 Australian Open and was runner-up in 2012 and 2014. Along with legendary American Jimmy Connors, Nadal is considered one of the greatest competitors ever in the game.