© Astana Open

Luca Nardi strikes a forehand during his win against David Goffin in Astana qualifying on Sunday.

#NextGenATP Nardi Seeks Tsitsipas Upset In Astana

Two 19-year-olds appeared in the main draw at this week’s Astana Open. Now only one remains, but it might not be the one most expected.

While the No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Carlos Alcaraz, suffered a rare blip on Tuesday, Luca Nardi enjoyed one of the finest days of his burgeoning career.

Hours before Alcaraz fell to lucky loser David Goffin, the Italian qualifier tallied his first tour-level win by downing Alexander Shevchenko 7-6 (4), 6-2.

“It was a very special day for me. And it was a special moment because I was looking for it,” Nardi said, referring to that first ATP win. “I’m really glad it came now. So I’m very, very happy.”

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Even though Nardi’s position in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings has soared to No. 152 from No. 440 this time last year, he did not necessarily expect his unforgettable moment to happen at the new ATP 500. Indeed, the #NextGenATP star pondered not making the trip to Kazakhstan after losing in qualifying at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open last week to a player then ranked No. 446, Edan Leshem.

But once in Astana, Nardi defeated none other than Goffin, the former World No. 7, in the final round of qualifying on Sunday — and in far from routine fashion. He saved three match points in the second set of his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2) win, recalling that one was fended off with a drop-shot winner.

That was not it. Nardi cramped in both legs as the slugfest stretched to three hours. Yet despite suffering physically, the Italian drew enormous confidence from prevailing, helping to banish memories of the qualifying reverse in Tel Aviv.

Nardi proved there were no ill effects against Shevchenko, who entered their contest six spots higher in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. He overcame losing a 25-shot rally, when Shevchenko moved the Pesaro native from side to side, to clinch the first-set tie-break.

“Actually, after this long season, right now I’m feeling great both physically and mentally, and after the match with Goffin, even more, because I understood I can play at (a certain) level, which is this level, and this gives me so much confidence,” said Nardi.

“I’m really glad I won this match and I hope I can keep going like this until the end of the season.”

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Nardi has lifted three ATP Challenger Tour trophies in 2022, all on hard courts, with the most recent coming in early September at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar. Nardi admitted Nadal provided inspiration, even as the 22-time Grand Slam champion contested the US Open an ocean away.

“It was special because while I was playing on the centre court, I was imagining that Rafa was there,” said Nardi, who added that Nadal’s great rival, Roger Federer, was his idol. “I was trying maybe to imitate him with the fighting spirit, and stuff like that.

The title in Spain marked Nardi’s first event since contracting Covid-19. A serious case, it left him bed ridden for about nine days.

He consequently missed the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag ATP 250 event, where he had been given a main-draw wildcard. Nardi had momentum, too, having just qualified for the Hamburg European Open.

“I was playing good,” said Nardi. “I was very sad.”

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Lorenzo Musetti, 20, ended up winning Hamburg and Jannik Sinner, 21, triumphed in Umag. Nardi knows both of his fellow Italians, especially Musetti. They have played matches together, practiced, and been on the same national teams. Nardi is not only the youngest of the trio, but the youngest of 18 Italians in the top 200.

Musetti and Sinner own Top 10 wins and Nardi bids for his first in Wednesday’s night session in Astana against Stefanos Tsitsipas. He is realistic, but hopeful about his chances against the Greek nine-time tour-level titlist.

“Of course it’s going to be very, very, very hard for me. I don’t know if I have many chances, but I will try to do my best and let’s see what happens,” said Nardi. “I will try to enjoy every moment on court.”

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