Richard Jago in Dubai
Wednesday February 28, 2007
It was the match with Andy Murray in Melbourne which "killed me,"
Rafael Nadal admits, and the repercussions were still rippling through
last night's encounter in the first round of the Dubai Open, when the
world No2 was forced to begin the defence of his title without having
competed for a month.
For a while it looked as though Nadal might fall at the first hurdle,
but the revival which enabled him to come up with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win
over Marcos Baghdatis provided proof that he has recovered from the
injury to what he called "my famous arse" at the Australian Open.
To spend that amount of time off the tour and immediately manage such
a hard-fought win over such an in-form player was a special
achievement. Nadal not only got the gluteus maximus in gear but his
mind into the focus needed to fight back against a dangerous opponent.
It kept alive the possibility of a repeat of last year's Nadal-Roger
Federer final, in which Nadal surprisingly beat the record-breaking
world No1 on a hard court, something Federer would very much like to
avenge before the two hard-court Masters Series events in the US next
Federer reckoned Nadal's first round would be "fun". The Spaniard
thought it would have been much more fun had it been in the
quarter-finals - probably alluding to his likely encounter with Tomas
Berdych, to whom he has lost all three of their hard- court meetings.
But Nadal can take comfort from having played much more aggressively
than he did in Australia and the fact this was, he thought, his best
performance of the year so far. In the first set Baghdatis was full of
velvet variations from behind the baseline; then when he got something
shorter he would pounce with slashing angled drives which brooked no
Once Baghdatis had let Nadal in, however, with indifferent service
games early in both the second and third sets, it all became so
different. "When you let an opponent like him into the match and he
gets confident and he starts playing deeper and making you move more,
mentally you say 'shit'," said Baghdatis.
Nadal today faces Igor Andreev, Russia's Davis Cup hero earlier this
month. Federer plays Daniele Bracciali, a net-attacking Italian.
Britain's Alex Bogdanovic has crashed out of the Tennis Channel Open
after he suffered a 6-3, 6-2 defeat to the American tenager Sam
Querrey in Las Vegas. Querrey serves nine aces in the elimination
match and advances to the 24-player round-robin event. The former
world No1 Gustavo Kuerten edged out Wesley Moodie of South Africa 6-4,