By Abigail Hinto
(October 4, 2013) BEIJING – Down a set and a break, and then facing 2 breakpoints again on his serve, Rafael Nadal crawled his way back into the match to secure at 2-6 6-4 6-1 victory over Fabio Fognini to book a spot in the semifinals of the China Open. It leaves him one match away from moving back to secure the No. 1 ranking.
It was a match that had everything. Just the second point into the match and Nadal scraped his left knee, the knee that sidelined him for 7 months. Fabio Fognini came out playing as the dominant force, hitting winners everywhere and defending better than Nadal. The umpire’s microphone malfunctioned during the longest game of the match that he had to shout out the scores. There was a crying baby in the crowd, a floating object (possibly an insect?) inside Rafa’s water bottle, a medical timeout for Fognini, stunned silence and then loud screaming from the fans, unchallenged and poorly challenged calls, the collapse from Fognini and finally, the classic fight to come back from Nadal.
The scare Nadal felt for his knee probably contributed to his erratic game for most of the match. As he said, ” you know, when something happened like this in the first point in the match, your knee, you know, the memory stays there and is very difficult to be 100% focused on the match because you are thinking about if I really did a bad movement or not.” But Fognini was also playing extremely well and Nadal was left staring as winners went past him, hence an easy first set for him and an early break in the second set. For Nadal, holding on in the 4th game of the second set facing two breakpoints and then again for 4-2 with a breakpoint against, Nadal was able to hang on long enough against a smaller deficit to finally get himself into the match and to work to turn things around. He had chances in the fifth game but missed them, but finally got the much needed break back for 4-3. From there, Nadal’s comeback began and eventually completed with an easy 6-1 score in the final set.
How did Nadal see the match? “When you are playing against an opponent that he’s playing well, the thing that you have to do is try to push him to the limit and try to make him play very well for a very, very long time.
“That’s something that I was not doing for the first set and a half. That’s why the score went like this, because he was playing with big confidence and I was not bringing his game to the limit.
“Then changed a little bit the situation. I played a little bit better, played with a little bit more rhythm, and he felt that he needed to play another shot to win the point.
“And then the situation changed. But was too late. I was very lucky,” he said.
For Nadal, one of the most important things in tennis is winning when you’re not playing well, “because that gives you an opportunity to play good again next day and to change the situation.”
Nadal did finish the match playing better than when he started, and feeling better about his movement and knee too, “it’s true that I improved during the match. I finished the match with a little bit more confidence on my movements.” Nadal will need to play well from the start when he faces Tomas Berdych next in the semifinals.
Abigail Hinto and Natalie Ho are covering the 2013 China Open in Beijing for Tennis Panorama News.