Nadal Weathers Opelka Storm, Sets Kyrgios Clash

Spaniard improves to 18-0 on the season

Rafael Nadal survived a serving bombardment from 6’ 11” Reilly Opelka on Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open as he extended his perfect start to the ATP Tour season to 18-0.

With his back against the wall, the Spaniard blunted Opelka’s big-hitting game with heavy topspin as he demonstrated an abundance of agility and patience, overcoming the American 7-6(3), 7-6(5) to book his place in the quarter-finals.

Nadal, who is enjoying a career-best start to a year, stood deep behind the baseline on Opelka’s serve, which enabled him to put returns back into court with ferocious depth and power.

The 35-year-old soaked up Opelka’s brand of ‘Big Man’ tennis and rallied from a break down in the second set to eventually advance after two hours and 11 minutes. Nadal now leads Opelka 2-0 in their ATP Head2Head series, with their previous meeting coming on clay in Rome last season.

“He is one of the toughest opponents on Tour,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “It is very tough to control his weapons with his serve and forehand. I think I played my best match of the tournament so far today. I am very pleased with how I was able to win the match, with two difficult tie-breaks. This victory means a lot to me.”


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The World No. 4 is the highest-ranked player left in the draw at the ATP Masters 1000 event and is aiming to capture his fourth tour-level title of a remarkable 2022 season this week.

Nadal has made history on multiple occasions this year, having clinched a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open, before he earned his 400th Masters 1000 win over Daniel Evans in the third round in Indian Wells.

“I think I played well,” Nadal added. “It is difficult because you need to find the right balance. When you are playing points from the baseline you think you can’t miss because you won’t have a lot of opportunities. So you need to find the balance to not allow him to come in and not taking big risks.”

Nadal is a three-time champion in the California desert (2007, 09, 13) and will continue his title pursuit when he plays Nick Kyrgios in the last eight. The Australian moved through after #NextGenATP Italian Jannik Sinner was forced to withdraw from their match due to illness.

“Nick is playing great,” Nadal said. “He is one of the toughest opponents on Tour. Everyone knows how good he is when he is motivated. It is going to be a good test for me and good challenge. I am excited to be in the quarter-finals.”

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In a tight first set, Nadal had to wait for his opportunities, with Opelka saving the only break point of the set at 3-4, 30/40 as they moved to a tie-break. From 3/3, it was Nadal who found the greater consistency from the baseline, pulling Opelka from side to side as he moved ahead.

The second set saw Opelka continue to crush forehands and blast backhands and he capitalised on two double faults from Nadal to break in the fifth game. The American forced Nadal against the back wall on Stadium 1 at times and was presented with an opportunity to move 5-2 ahead. However, Nadal saved the break point with a powerful serve, before he demonstrated his trademark fighting spirit, battling back to 4-4.

After Opelka hung onto his serve at 5-6, another tie-break was left to determine the set. Nadal once again made no mistake, ruthlessly raising his game to seal victory.

Self-proclaimed ‘Serve Bot’ Opelka played aggressively against Nadal, but was unable to match the fourth seed’s intensity in the crucial moments. The World No. 17, who advanced to the final in Toronto last season, was aiming to reach his fourth Masters 1000 quarter-final.

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