Rafael Nadal narrowly avoided Roger Federer’s fate, as he squeezed out a testing 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 win against Ivo Karlovic in the second round of the Shanghai Open.
Following Federer’s early exit yesterday, it appeared the competition would also be left deprived of another celebrity for the latter rounds, but the eighth seed was able to come out unscathed against a gritty Karlovic who stretched the 14-times major champion to his limits.
Nadal withstood a barrage of aces from his opponent, 24 in total, and had to match the 6 feet 11 inch Croat’s dominance on serve to register the victory in 2 hours and 47 minutes. He will next lock horns with another vicious server, Milos Raonic, in the next round.
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The struggle for Nadal started right from the opening game as Karlovic unleashed a couple of ferocious forehand shots to earn two break points which he converted to draw first blood in the contest.
In the fourth game, Nadal eked out a couple of break points, only for Karlovic to obliterate them and take a 5-3 lead.
An ace first up when serving for the set gave an impression of an easy Karlovic hold to close out the set. Nadal, though, had other plans as he produced three smash buckling service returns to get back on serve.
Last week’s China Open runner-up then broke the revered Karlovic serve once again to pocket the first set.
From there on, it was a classical display of sublime serving from both the players. Neither of them dropped serve in the second set. However, Karlovic kept his cool in the ensuing tiebreak to claim it 7-4 and take the match to a decider.
The second set sequence carried into the third as neither player was able to penetrate the opponent’s serve and it was left to another tiebreak to decide the winner.
This time, it was Nadal who maintained his composure as he cashed in on a lapse in concentration from Karlovic who double faulted at 4-4 to hand the mini-break to the Spaniard.
The 2009 runners-up served out the next two points to finally diffuse a gallant challenge from the Croatian player and book his place in the next round.
“I think I played a good match," Nadal said in his post-match interview.
"The only negative thing was the first game of the match. The real thing is he played so well the first set, the first game, too. He played well.
"In terms of level of concentration and attitude and control of my emotions, it was a fantastic match. To win 7-6 in the third is a very important victory for me, especially because I believe in the last tie-break I did not lose a single point on my serve. That's because I was in control again of my emotions. That's the most important thing for me today.”
Nadal will square off with Milos Raonic on Thursday for a place in the quarterfinal, as he continues his quest to seal a place in the season-ending World Tour Finals.