For all the world it looked like London’s O2 Arena’s curse on Rafael Nadal would continue on Monday. But credit to the World No. 1 who recovered from a set and a break down to rally past Andy Roddick 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in opening round-robin play at the ATP Finals.
“[To] win a match here is very important for me,” said Nadal after his first career win at the O2. “I can play with a little bit more calm the next match. But even if I lose the next match, I’m still going to have chances to be in the semis. So that’s relaxing me a little bit more. Is very positive victory for me and very, very important.”
Nadal, who missed Paris because of an alleged shoulder injury, looked sluggish and out of sorts as the start while Roddick looked eager. The American raced out to a 4-1 lead before Nadal finally found some footing.
But Roddick kept battering his serve, attacking when given the chance and taking it to Nadal. And after securing another break to lead 2-1 in the second, things didn’t look promising for Nadal.
The Spaniard has been down before and he didn’t panic. Nadal started dictating with his forehand and clawed back to level. He finally edged Roddick in the tiebreak to win the second set, and snap a 7-set losing streak he had at the O2. The momentum was his and he never let go in a match he really had to have with Novak Djokovic looming Wednesday.
“I was a little bit lucky tonight,” said Nadal. “That’s the truth. But at the same time I started the match a little bit nervous. Five weeks without play. Playing against the best players of the world in the more difficult surface for me, the first match will always be difficult.
“I think I was very close to losing, that’s true. I was in critical situation when I lost my serve [in the second set] because that’s the normal thing. You play against one of the best servers of the world; I wasn’t feeling very well on court. What I can do is try to keep playing with positive attitude, try to play a little bit better, and wait [for] the chance. It happened. For that reason, I am here today for the victory.”
Despite the loss, Roddick’s set win keeps him in the hunt, and if he can beat Berdych on Wednesday he’s right back in the mix.
The early Group A match went to form as Djokovic hammered a lackluster Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3 in his opener.
Tomorrow, in perhaps the marquee match of the round-robin Brit fav Andy Murray and Roger Federer renew their rivalry. Murray leads 8-5 including recent wins in the Toronto rain this summer and last month in Shanghai, both finals.
In the UK, however, it’s Federer 1-0 with the one victory coming a year ago at the O2.
So while on paper Murray gets the edge – he’s won the last two in straights, he had a better win on Sunday – I still think the pressure catches up to Andy here. But it should be a tight match with the winner all but assured a semifinal berth.
In the late match, I expect Robin Soderling to get through David Ferrer. It’s the fourth time this fall these two will hook up. Oddly, Ferrer won two of those meetings at Beijing and indoors in Valencia. But Soderling leads 8-4 overall and if he still has his head he should prevail.
Tennis Channel has live singles coverage at 9am ET with Federer and 3pm ET with Soderling.
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