Rafael Nadal safely made his way through to the fourth round in Indian Wells after a hard fought 6-3, 7-5 victory over fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the heat of the day in the California desert.
* Article originally published by me for UBITennis.net *
The opening half of the first set was highly competitive but a break down on serve led to a loss of confidence for Verdasco as the first set ran away from him. Nadal squandered an early break advantage in the second set, but seven double faults in all and only managing to win three of 13 points on second serve came back to bite his opponent late on in the contest.
The two Spaniards have shared many great battles in the past and met for a 19th time, the second year in a row at this event. Nadal won that last encounter 6-0, 7-6(9), but lost to his compatriot for only the third time when they met prior to that at the Australian Open.
Both players looked more than up for the fight and started off strongly on serve, with Verdasco getting pushed to deuce once on serve being the only test for the servers in the opening six games.
Nadal raised his level in the eighth game after winning a crucial opening point following a superb inside out forehand cross court which Verdasco could not retrieve. A couple of unforced errors from the world number 29 and a scintillating backhand down the line winner from the 14-time Grand Slam champion secured a break to love and put Nadal in the driving seat.
That streak of points was part of a run which saw Nadal win 12 of the last 13 points in the set to seal it 6-3 with just over half an hour played.
It appeared as though Verdasco was fading away and struggling in the heat as the first set rather petered out, but the 33-year-old responded. After holding serve, the former top-10 player worked his way back to 30-30, earning his first real look at attempting to break Nadal’s serve. After the world number 29 went for an ambitious forehand winner, which went well long, his opponent was stung into action, holding to level at a game apiece.
After working hard to make an impact early in the set, Verdasco failed to take advantage of his game points on serve, allowing Nadal to move to break point. An untimely fourth double fault handed the fifth seed a break of serve and a significant advantage in the match.
With the lead in hand the Spanish number one threw in a surprisingly poor service game, suddenly making countless unforced errors as he dropped serve to love to relinquish the break. The mistakes continued from the former champion in the next game as the 26th seed made it eight points in a row, taking a 3-2 lead.
Nadal had to come through another test on serve in the eighth game down 15-30 and was pushed to deuce but managed to survive to keep himself in the second set. After missing an opportunity to break the Verdasco serve in the following game, the fifth seed got what he desired in game eleven after another ill-timed double fault from the 33-year-old to hand the former champion the chance to serve for the match.
Despite only winning 70% of points behind his first serve in this set compared to 94% in the first, Nadal was able to close out the match at the first time of asking and secure his 16th win over his compatriot 6-3, 7-5.
Up next for the Spaniard, a highly anticipated fourth round clash with Roger Federer, who saw off Steve Johnson 7-6(3), 7-6(4).