Rafael Nadal battles past Andy Roddick in nervy encounter
Rafael Nadal was forced to dig deep to defeat a robust Andy Roddick 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 at the ATP World Tour Finals in London on Monday night.
The Spaniard started slowly and struggled to cope with the brutal and accurate serving of Roddick. “I was a little lucky tonight,” admitted Nadal. “I started the match a little bit nervous.
“The first game was very important when I had the 15-40. If I had this break, I would have been able to be calm in the next games.”
Despite a quick start Roddick failed to keep the momentum. The 28-year-old American said: “I came out of the gates aggressively and I think I caught him by surprise. He definitely wasn’t settled comfortably. I think the difference was he found his range on his forehand in the second and third sets.”
Nadal was unable to find any rhythm on serve in the opening set and handed Roddick a break at 1-0 with two double faults. The American managed to consolidate his advantage with three straight aces and dominated the set with heavy ground strokes and deft touches at the net to prevail 6-3.
But the 24-year-old world number one responded superbly in the second set to break back at 1-2 with some fierce forehands. The set followed serve until a tense tie-break where Nadal won the crucial points and with them, the set.
Nadal began to find his groove and his forehand whipped Roddick across the baseline in several high quality intense rallies. The American tried to serve volley and cut the points short but Nadal’s passes began to touch the lines.
The Spaniard grabbed the decisive break at 2-2 and never looked back, securing a morale-boosting victory in just over two-and-a-half hours.
Nadal later admitted he was haunted by his memories of last year’s dismal performances at The O2. “It was something that was still on the mind,” he said. “Finally to win a match here is very important for me.
“Even if I lose the next match, I’m still going to have chances to be in the semis. So that relaxs me a little bit more.”
Meanwhile, Roddick said the contest hinged on the tie-break. “I was up 1-0, I hit a back hand cross court as hard as I’ve ever hit in my life,” said the American. “He was able to put it in play and neutralise it.
“The next one I hit a buck-40 down the tee and he hit a passing shot. That’s a 2-1 down, 3-0 swing there.”
Earlier in the day, world number three Novak Djokovic strolled past debutant Thomas Berdych 6-3 6-3 in a scrappy encounter.
Much of the debate leading into this contest was over whether Djokovic would be focused enough in London ahead of the Davis Cup final in Belgrade next week. Meanwhile, Berdych has been in woeful form, having lost in four opening rounds of his last five tournaments.
Unfortunately for the crowd, the Wimbledon finalist seemed nervous and agitated from the very first point when he served a double fault. Another double fault then handed Djokovic a break in the first game and it seemed the chances for a contest were slim.
The second set did prove more of a test for Djokovic but Berdych kept hitting the net and missing simple volleys. Consequently the Serbian only had to keep his game in check to ease to victory.
Djokovic was clearly happy to win in such a comprehensive fashion. “It was definitely a great start for me,” he said. “Tomas is always a tricky opponent, he didn’t serve well and whenever I could I stepped in on the second serve.”
The Serbian said he sensed his opponent was nervous during his first visit to the ATP World Tour finals. “It’s normal to be nervous on your debut,” he said.
And Berdych will not look back on his debut fondly with no break points, 28 unforced errors and only a 48 per cent first-serve percentage.
A despondent Berdych admitted the occasion got the better of him after the match. “Yes, I think you can see in the beginning that there were nerves that affected my game a little bit.”
The world number six said playing against the best players in the world from the first match in a tournament was a challenging situation. “It’s something different for me,” he added. “All those guys have played this tournament at least once, so they already know how it is, and they know how to deal with that.”
Tuesday sees the much-anticipated clash between Andy Murray and Roger against Federer followed by Robin Soderling’s match against David Ferrer in the evening session.