Rafael Nadal quickly put behind him what he described as his worst clay performance in memory to cruise into the Rome Masters quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Feliciano Lopez.
This was a much improved performance by the world number one after a shaky start to the tournament. He later attributed his struggles this week to a fever as he revealed it was touch-and-go whether he could continue.
“I hope the fever goes away but I don’t know,” said Nadal. “If it stays five days I will see you all at Roland Garros, but if it stays for only one or two days I want to stay and fight.”
The Spaniard admitted after the match that he had played badly and could not remember a worse performance on his favourite surface. Some suggested he might have been adversely affected by his loss to recent nemesis Novak Djokovic in the Madrid final on Sunday -- his first clay defeat in 10 outings against the world number two.
Nadal insisted he was feeling no pressure and said it would not be possible to play so badly again, before revealing that his poor form was due to a fever.
“The last few months have been hard. I certainly didn’t understand very well why I felt that slow and without energy.”
Despite conceding that he did not feel on top form, Nadal was more like his old self as he notched his fourth straight sets victory against his countryman on this surface.
He began with an early break in the second game as Lopez went long on a sliced backhand.
But just as he had failed to hold a break in the first set against Lorenzi, he suffered a break-back against his compatriot. However, Lopez played a sloppy game when serving to stay in the set at 4-5, a poor drop-shot into the net bringing up 0-40 and three set points to Nadal, who took the first with a rasping backhand passing shot.
The world number one needed only one opportunity in the second set as he hit an inside-out forehand winner to bring up two break points at 3-2 and then Lopez went long to hand his countryman a decisive advantage.
The ruthless clay king did not let Lopez win another game, breaking him again in the eighth game. In fairness, Lopez was far from his best, hitting 30 unforced errors to just 12 by Nadal, including on match point.
Stosur eases through
There were mixed fortunes for the two Australian women remaining in the draw. Sixth-seed Samantha Stosur eased into the quarter-finals as she put an end to Slovenian qualifier Polona Hercog’s impressive run, winning 6-3, 6-4.
However, Jarmila Gajdosova was soundly thrashed by Chinese fourth seed Li Na, 6-1, 6-2.
Twice a former champion here, the former world number one Jelena Jankovic was made to fight to reach the quarters. The fifth seed dropped the second set before overcoming Spanish qualifier Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
“If the fever stays five days I will see you all at Roland Garros, but if it stays for only one or two days I want to stay and fight. The last few months have been hard.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2011.
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