Nadal squeezes past qualifier Bergs in Rome opener

Spaniard recovers to defeat Zizou Bergs 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at Italian Open

AFP May 10, 2024


Rafael Nadal battled into the second round of the Rome Open on Thursday after bouncing back from a set down to beat qualifier Zizou Bergs 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Clay court icon Nadal will face world number nine Hubert Hurkacz next as he continued his comeback from injury with a punishing match against his Belgian opponent which lasted nearly three hours.

Also on Nadal's side of the draw are last year's winner, world number four Daniil Medvedev, and the beaten finalist Holger Rune.

"I'm happy to win a match which was important to me but I didn't play very well," admitted Nadal to Sky Sport.

"I played very badly for about half an hour but then I got a bit better. But I'll have to improve a lot if I'm going to win the next match and I expect to do so."

Spaniard Nadal has in recent times been a shadow of the player who has won 22 Grand Slams in a storied career which has also brought a record 10 titles in Rome, his most recent in 2021.

The 37-year-old has struggled with injury, dropping down to 305 in the world rankings after missing almost all of last year.

He returned in April from another three-month lay-off with a second-round exit in Barcelona before reaching the last 16 in Madrid last week.

Nadal has said that he will only play at the French Open, where he has won 14 times, if he feels competitive and although he showed glimpses of his old self against 108th-ranked Bergs he struggled on his serve and looked a long way from Grand Slam standard.

Outsider Bergs, 24, is an eight-time title winner on the Challenger tour and had in previous tournaments taken sets off high-profile players like Stefanos Tsitsipas and last year's losing Rome finalist Rune.

The hard-hitting Belgian pushed his big-name rival all the way, briefly looking like he might win the biggest match of his career to date before Nadal fought back to take victory.

Nadal showed signs of form in game four of the first set, when a stunning passing shot and brilliant return of serve in consecutive points took him to 0-40 and an eventual break.

But Bergs broke back straight away as Nadal's rustiness from his long layoff showed, a super return of serve pulling the Belgian to within a game before he levelled at 3-3 with his serve.

And Nadal dropped his serve for a second time as errors began to creep in to his game, a double fault at 15-40 down in game nine handing Bergs the chance to claim the set in the next, which he duly took to love.

Nadal came out all guns blazing in the second set however, quickly racing to a 3-0 lead after the first game was interrupted for 10 minutes at 40-0 due to a spectator illness.

He battled against a spirited Bergs to hold his next three service games and level the match before breaking out some vintage shots to break Bergs three games later and take firm control.

Nadal then saved three break points in a row to move 4-2 ahead and served out to win, sealing the deal with his first match point.


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