Nadal Holds Off #NextGenATP Sinner Challenge In Rome
For the second week in a row, Rafael Nadal went toe-to-toe with a talented and fast-rising #NextGenATP star – and once again, the World No. 3 managed to hold off the youth surge in style, fighting past 19-year-old Jannik Sinner in an electrifying battle at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Last week in Madrid, Nadal similarly found himself facing off against the future of the sport when he faced Carlos Alcaraz in his opening match. He was tested in the early exchanges, but ultimately eased past the 18-year-old in straight sets.
He had an even bigger battle on his hands on Wednesday against 19-year-old home favourite Sinner, who recently reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Miami Open presented by Itau. Contesting the highly anticipated last match of the evening on Centre Court, Nadal drew from his long experience to wear down Sinner and fight through 7-5, 6-4.
Nadal will face 13th seed Denis Shapovalov in the third round. Shapovalov took down another Italian, wild card Stefano Travaglia, 7-6(2), 6-3 in an hour and 35 minutes to book his fourth meeting with the Spaniard. Nadal owns a 2-1 ATP Head2Head lead over Shapovalov, and won their only previous encounter on clay at this venue in 2018.
Sinner showed no sign of nerves against the 13-time Roland Garros champion in the second round. He had already pushed Nadal to a tie-break in their only previous encounter at last year’s Grand Slam in Paris, where Nadal ultimately prevailed with a 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 win.
Coming into the match, Nadal had only lost a total of four games in his last four Rome openers. Sinner was determined to flip the script, pushing the Spaniard to the brink and taking an early lead with a break in both sets. But the nine-time champion fought back both times to secure the victory in two hours and 10 minutes.
With the victory, Nadal improved to 7-0 against Italian opponents in Rome, and extended his winning record in opening matches to 16-1 at the Foro Italico.
Sinner set the tone early on with a break in Nadal’s opening service game. The Italian was aggressive from the start, and troubled Nadal with his top spin and ability to change direction of the ball in the rallies. But Nadal replied in kind, levelling the score a game later as both players settled into a returners’ battle. The pair traded breaks twice in the opening set, with Nadal going for the occasional drop shot to break Sinner's rhythm to much success.
Still on serve but with scoreboard pressure on his side, Nadal dialled up the pressure on Sinner as he served to stay in the set. Nadal created seven break points at the end of the set: three at 5-4 and four more at 6-5. Sinner raised his level on serve when it mattered most to extend his stay in the set, but when Nadal finally got a look at a second serve he battered it with the forehand to seal the opening tilt.
The second seed was in danger in the second set as Sinner again surged to an early break with a 2-1 lead as Nadal’s unforced error count began to climb. But it would prove to be the only break point that Nadal allowed in the set, and the Spaniard recentred himself and reeled off the last four games to close out the battle.