Rafael Nadal ripped forehands and smacked backhands all over the court, leaving Andy Roddick to watch and wonder as the top-ranked Spaniard rallied to win 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Nadal, who won three of the four Grand Slam titles this year but had lost four straight at the season-ending event, was broken in his first service game and then again early in the second set of the Group A match. But trailing 2-1 in the second set, Nadal was helped by a pair of let calls on Roddick’s booming serve with the American leading 30-15.
Nadal ended up winning both of those points, the second on a double-fault, and then broke back when Roddick sent a forehand long and wide. In the tiebreaker, Nadal gave up the lead only briefly before winning four straight points to make it make it 6-3.
“To finally win a match here is very important for me,” said Nadal, who lost in straight sets in all three matches at the O2 Arena last year. “I can play with a little bit more calm the next match.”
With Roddick playing serve-and-volley throughout the match, Nadal was sending shots from both sides of his body past his opponent on long rallies. And it was a backhand winner on break point in the third set that gave Nadal a 3-2 lead that he soon stretched to 4-2.
“Positive thing is I started the match playing bad or so-so, and I finished the match playing much better,” said Nadal, who has been out of action for about five weeks. “So always that’s good for the mentality, for the feeling, for everything.”
On Wednesday, Nadal will face Novak Djokovic. The Serb had little trouble beating Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3 in the early match.
Roddick came within two points of serving for the match twice at 5-5 in the second set. But Nadal ripped a forehand winner after a long rally to make it 30-30, and then Roddick sent a forehand return wide. Nadal held serve on the next point with his fourth of six aces.
“The difference was he found his range on his forehand in the second and third sets,” Roddick said. “He was able to find his defensive forehand more and wasn’t spraying it. That changed the dimension of the rallies a little bit.”
Although Roddick’s serve couldn’t earn him the victory, the eighth-ranked American landed 62 per cent of his first serves and won 86 percent of those points, including 18 aces. “It hinged on the breaker,” Roddick said of the second set tiebreaker.
Djokovic served well throughout his match, was only taken to deuce in two games and never faced a break point. He also ran his sixth-ranked Czech opponent around the court, using a variety of forehands and backhands to send Berdych sprinting from side to side.
“There is no easy match, easy opponent, whatever,” the Serb said. Djokovic’s strong performance aside, Berdych’s biggest problem may have been his serve.
The Czech landed only 50 per cent of his first serves, and although he only had three double-faults, two of them came in the first game - on the opening point and on break point.
“That is the worst case in every match, if you start pretty bad with a service game and you just give the break up to your opponent,” Berdych said. “And if you play Novak, it’s even tougher.”
Football great Diego Maradona was in the audience for the second day in a row, and Djokovic quipped that the Argentine helped him with his tactics.
“We’re working on some specifics, like how to play with hands,” Djokovic said of Maradona, who is famous for his “Hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup.
In doubles, Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi beat Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach 7-6 (2), 6-4. In the late match, Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia defeated Wesley Moodie of South Africa and Dick Norman of Belgium 6-1, 6-2.
Keywords: ATP World Tour Finals