ATP Tennis 360

January 22, 2010 11:27 AM

Grades or not grades, a good Nadal is back

69a8f1581bc51564dd779b663ef83418.jpgRafa is back. Nadal played, at least for two sets, a good match, obviously if compared to his late 2009 standards. Pushed practiacally during just the first set by Luczak in the first two rounds, the Mallorcan faced the first decent obstacle in his Australian Open title defence. And Kohlschreiber (Kohli from now on, fogive me it's easier to write) is a kind of player he tends to suffer- He serves well, he's brilliant, mainly on the backhand side, and he likes playing it down the line with the ball bouncing deep and low. And, the more, he had already won a pair of sets against Nadal, in the 2007 Australian Open and next year, at Doha.

Anyway, for two sets, the result seemed granted. Not that Kohli was completely overpowered. He was simply not capable of maximising the chances he had, and against Nadal wasting seven break points in the second set is franky too much to hope in a different outcome. The German paid also the 38 unforced errors registered at the end of the second set, although the Australian statsmen are not so credible when compiling it having not apparently perfectly digested the difference between forced and unforced errors.

After 110 minutes the score was 64 62 Nadal but the the truth hidden behind numbers was not immediately evident. Kohli forced the stages in the opening games and as broken to 2-3 at the first chance. He saved to break points in each of the subsequent two service games, didn't transform any out the seven, opened with his forehand some breach going 0-15 and 15-30 with Nadal serving for set, but his being left undone condamned him.

And the German paid mentally in the second: he was broken soon despite being 40-0 up and the Mallorcan rushed to a 6-2 partial, clinched with a shocking forehand winner from an extreme angle. "It was one of the best forehands in my life probably" he said in the press conference. For the crowdit became hard to think that the immediate future. Not for a pair of young fans of the Mallorcan wearing the shirts of Fabregas and Torres, who believed Rafa didn't feel good and that he was meant to suffer for another pair of sets with relative thrilling for the final outcome.

They were right. Kohli broke, thanks to a delicate volley and a deppo forehand winner and went 3-0 up in a flash and repeated himself: 5-2, serve, and set frozen when Nadal netted from the baseline.

The fourth set is the perfect image of the German, whose beauty doesn't correspond to performance and results: a dream of pure, sterile play abruptly finished in the key moments. In the fourth, they went on with serve till 3-3, then Rafa found an astonishing forehand from the angle and a winning return to go 4-3 up. But he hasn't calculated the German pride: Kohli broke back in a game full of brilliant winners: a pass down the line from Nadal following a flat volley; second-serve aces; almost every shot was hit cleanly and forced cheers. But, again, at 5-5, Kohli over-hit a forehand. His fate was written. Rafa served for the match and didn't overturn it.

Leaving outside the question of grades, Rafa is showing increasing self-confidence, although in the last two sets he started to play shorter, sign of a certain frailty not yet totally absorbed. The progresses from the World Tour Finals to Melbourne are indisputable. But they couldn't be enough yet

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