Nadal bounces back from loss to Alcaraz and beats Isner in Rome
By ANDREW DAMPF
ROME (AP) — Once is enough to beat Rafael Nadal on clay.
Throughout his career, Nadal has never lost consecutive matches on his favorite surface and the Spaniard extended that perfect record on Wednesday by beating John Isner 6-3, 6-1 to reach the third round of the Italian Open.
Nadal was going out a defeat against Carlos Alcaraz, 19 years old in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open last week. After a first-round bye, he improved to 44-0 in clay court matches following a loss on the surface.
Perhaps most importantly, Nadal has regained some confidence as he recovers from a stress fracture in his ribs that sidelined him for six weeks ahead of the Madrid tournament.
While he would clearly like to add to his record total of 10 Italian Open titles, Nadal’s biggest goal is to get back to his best form in time for the French Open, which starts in less than two weeks. . Nadal has won 13 of his 21 Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros.
The match with Isner was basically decided over a brief period.
Nadal struggled to serve at 3-3 in the first set, missing a forehand into the net and then double faulting to give Isner break points. But the American made unforced errors on his two break point chances and Nadal finally held.
In the next match, Nadal broke Isner’s serve when the 6-foot-10 American missed a comfortable forehand volley into the net. Nadal then held the score to close the first set and broke Isner’s serve in the first game of the second.
“I finished better than I started – without a doubt,” Nadal said. “He had chances on the returns. I was in his hands at that time. Luckily he missed those shots.
Nadal improved to 19-0 against the Americans on clay, having only been forced into a deciding set twice – both times by Isner, who pushed Nadal to five sets at the 2011 French Open and three sets at the 2015 Monte Carlo Masters.
Next, Nadal meets Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian he beat at the same stage last year in a grueling victory in three sets in which the Spaniard saved two match points.
“Super lucky,” Nadal said, thinking back to Shapovalov last year. “I know how dangerous he is. I have to play better than today.
Second-seeded Alexander Zverev, who was beaten by Alcaraz in Madrid’s final on Sunday, beat Sebastian Baez 7-6(6), 6-3 to end the Argentine qualifier’s eight-game winning streak.
In the women’s tournament, 2019 French Open semi-finalist Amanda Anisimova knocked out Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic 7-6(5), 6-1, and Croatian qualifier Petra Martic beat fifth seed Anett Kontaveit 6-2, 6-3.
Madrid runner-up Jessica Pegula advanced when Anhelina Kalinina pulled out ahead of their match with an upper back injury. The American will next face third seed Aryna Sabalenka.
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