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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday May 12, 2021

Rafael Nadal’s quest for a tenth Rome title is underway.

The King of Clay fought off a difficult test from 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner on Wednesday at the Foro Italico, 7-5, 6-4, to set up a round of 16 encounter with Denis Shapovalov on Thursday.

Tennis Express

“Have been a positive match for me, no?” Nadal said of his two hour and ten minute triumph. “I think I did a lot of things well. I played a solid match. Happy in a lot of positive things against a very tough player like Jannik—very pleased with the victory.”

In this highly anticipated second-round encounter between two players that shared the practice court exclusively during the Australian Open quarantine, Sinner demonstrated once again why he is a star in the making. He struck his backhand courageously, landing 11 winners off that wing, and gave himself several chances to take each set.

Sinner broke for 1-0 and again for 3-2 in the opening set, but he was unable to fight off Nadal, who levelled up each time and eventually came through on his seventh set point with Sinner serving at 5-6.

Sinner bounced back and moved ahead in the second set as well, but from 4-2 up he lost the final four games. Nadal converted his fourth match point with a wicked forehand winner down the line to improve to 64-7 lifetime at Rome and 14-3 on this young season.

Sinner took the loss hard.

“For sure I'm more disappointed and especially sad today, because I think obviously we both played quite high-level match,” he said. “You know, now it's tough to accept that I'm already out of the court because, you know, the first set I was up twice with break, and the second set I was up with break.

The Italian wanted better from himself, but said that he’ll take the lesson and continue trying to improve.

“It's tough to accept, because obviously I think Roland Garros was more like a test to see where I am and, you know, this time I knew that I could have and maybe today I should have done something more. But, you know, tennis is a sport of situations. You know, he handled the situations a little bit better today than me. So I think he deserve to win today.”

Nadal played an overall solid match and was able to stand firm against Sinner’s aggressive game. He worked the Italian for a total of 15 break points, converting five.

Nadal’s next opponent will be Canada’s Denis Shapovalov. The left-handed 22-year-old is not known for his clay prowess, but he has performed well previously at Rome. Last year he reached the semifinals. In his only previous match with Nadal on clay, Shapovalov lost in straight sets to Nadal at the Foro Italico in the round of 16, in 2018.


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