Rafael Nadal drew on his battling qualities on Thursday at the Mutua Madrid Open to keep alive his chances of winning a 29th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.
The fifth seed and four-time former titlist produced a stunning comeback in the first set against Sam Querrey for a 6-4, 6-2 victory and a place in the quarter-finals, where he will face Joao Sousa.
Nadal came within one point of trailing 1-5, when he served at 30/40 in the sixth game. Querrey later served at 4-3, 40/15, but could not stop Nadal's resurgence in the 39-minute first set. Nadal grew in confidence and won his seventh game in a row for a 2-0 lead in the second set. Although Querrey recovered to 2-2, Nadal moved up a gear to extinguish any further threats in the 70-minute encounter. It was his 12th straight match win.
“I hadn't trained during the nighttime, it was a completely different feeling,” Nadal said. “Today it was a little bit slower. At the beginning, when we were warming up, I was feeling a little bit strange, but actually during the week I've been training well and playing well.
“After [the slow start] I just had to come back and turn the match around. Luckily once I did that, the match went well. It was on my side most of the time.
“He was going to serve for 5-3 with new balls. You know that you're at the limit and you can lose the set. Not the match, because you still have another set to go, but it is tough [to be in that position]. In that moment I decided to step back a little bit and change my game. I tried to close the gap so that he couldn't just go for it. I think it worked out.”
Nadal, who is now 41-9 at the tournament, lifted the trophy in 2005 (d. Ljubicic), 2010 (d. Federer), 2013 (d. Wawrinka) and 2014 (d. Nishikori).
He has recently won back-to-back ATP World Tour titles at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (d. Monfils) and the Barcelona Open BancSabadell (d. Nishikori) to tie Guillermo Vilas' record of 49 clay-court titles.
Querrey, 28, captured his first ATP World Tour crown since 2012 at Delray Beach (d. Ram) in February. He dropped to 16-8 overall on the season.
Sousa is through to his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final after beating Querrey's compatriot, Jack Sock, 6-1, 6-7(3), 6-2 in two hours and 14 minutes.
Photos: Mutus Madrid Open; Getty Images; REUTERS; EPA; AFP; BPI
• Full Match
• On-court interview
Translated by Genny SS:
Rafa: Difficult start with Sam hitting every ball & so hard. Changed return position & it helped to turn things around.
Rafa thanks crowd for the incredible support he receives in Madrid. He's said though he loves playing in the sun the court at night was awesome