Nadal Comes Back From Brink To Crush Korda's Dream

Spaniard erases a double-break deficit in the third

Rafael Nadal entered his 15th BNP Paribas Open with a 15-0 record in 2022, his career-best start to a season. He needed a great escape to keep that streak intact against Sebastian Korda on Saturday with a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(3) victory.

The American held a double break advantage at 5-2 in the third set and twice served for the match in Indian Wells. But just as in the Australian Open final, Nadal managed to turn the match around after looking down and out against an inspired opponent.

"I thought I was lost today... and in Australia, very similar feeling," Nadal said in his post-match presser. "But that doesn't mean that I'm not going to keep trying or keep fighting.

"Even if I think I'm going to lose the match, my mindset before returning that 5-2 game is, 'OK, I am playing bad, I had two breaks, but even if I'm going to lose, I'm going to try to finish the match having some better feelings.' So I need to fight to find these better feelings in that last game."

Nadal's streak of 13 straight sets won dating back to the Aussie Open final was snapped, but the three-time Indian Wells champ denied Korda a famous victory against his idol with another clutch performance down the stretch. 

"He started playing a lot different," Korda said of the match's final stretch. "He moved closer to the baseline. I could see that he was a little worried, changing up his tactics. Just didn't play good games, and he took advantage of it."

Two perfectly placed passing shots helped Nadal get back on serve at 5-5 in the third, and the Spaniard was the steadier player in the tie-break as he won the final five points of the match.

"I think it's true that probably he got a little bit more nervous," Nadal assessed. "He made some more mistakes, being honest. I think I played a little bit better at least."

He later added: "We all get nervous when we have to win matches. If somebody tells you [differently], there is two options. That he lies [to] you, or the other option is he really doesn't care about the sport."

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Playing at Indian Wells for the first time since 2019, Nadal raced to a 4-0 lead in the opening set, immediately taking to the desert conditions. But Korda was hitting the bigger ball in set two and for much of set three, doing heavy damage with his all-court game until Nadal regained control with his late charge.

"I feel very, very lucky today to be through, honestly," said the fourth seed, who credited Korda for his aggressive play. "Sebastian was playing some fantastic tennis and I'm sorry for him. He had chances, but that's tennis. He's very young, he has an amazing future. I wish him all the best."

After winning just four games against the Spaniard (after whom he named his cat) at Roland Garros in 2020, the World No. 38 showed how much he's improved since then as he pushed Nadal to the brink in the two-and-a-half hour contest.

"He'll always be my idol in tennis, one of the reasons why I picked up a tennis racquet," said Korda, who took a lot of positives from his performance despite the loss.

Nadal next faces 27th seed Daniel Evans, a 6-2, 6-0 winner over Federico Coria earlier on Saturday.

"I didn't have my best feeling today," Nadal added in his on-court interview. "Good thing tomorrow is a day off. I need to keep practising... Another fantastic feeling being able to win that match. It doesn't matter what way."

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