After a stint in Luxembourg, TTI’s European indoor season continues in Basel this week! As if on cue, the opening matches on Monday saw plenty of three-set matches with more twists and turns than your average Swiss mountain pass.
This afternoon in Basel, main draw action at the St. Jakobs-Arena got underway and the first main draw match of the tournament between Adrian Mannarino and Viktor Troicki very much set the tone for the remainder of the day.
Mannarino emerged victorious but only by the skin of his teeth as Troicki served for the match at 5-3 in the final set. The unforced errors off of the Serb’s racquet, however, began to mount when it mattered most and the French qualifier continued to apply pressure, hooking his lefty forehand and yanking his opponent all over the court — and ultimately out of the tournament, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(3).
After the opening ceremony, it was time for the first high profile name to take centre court — namely Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard — whose struggles throughout 2015 have been all too well-documented — did not exactly have the luck of the draw on his side as he opened his Basel campaign against an all too familiar opponent in Lukas Rosol. The big-hitting Czech had given the 14-time Grand Slam champion a fair share of trouble in the past — beginning on the lawns of Wimbledon in 2012.
While Nadal avenged loss at the same venue two years later, the first set of tonight’s encounter appeared to pick up where a zoning Rosol left off three years ago. During the opener, the Czech tore through the court, picking up many of Nadal’s far too short groundstrokes and converted them into winners en route to cruising, 6-1.
“Today was the first match on indoors in a long time and against a player who came on court hitting all balls so quick — so was not much time to play and I was not serving well at the beginning,” Nadal said. “So, [it was] tough for me to get in the match. He plays aggressive and he put the balls in, especially in fast courts like this one.”
The second set looked to be headed towards a similar outcome as the first as Rosol continued to go for his shots, getting an early break lead and serving for the match. At that key moment in the second set, however, the Czech started showing nerves — among them, shanking a backhand volley — whereas Nadal was able to string together some more quality points. The Spaniard was still far from his best but a rattled Rosol struggled to seal the deal and proceeded to drop the final four games of the set.
“6-1 5-4 30-0 — then it’s a question of everything,” Nadal said. “A little bit of luck, for sure, but at the same time of keep believing…for the match. That’s what I did and finally some good inspiration points that didn’t happen during the whole match arrived in that moment and then I started to play better, really.”
Early on, Nadal was able to maintain his momentum into the final set, being a break up and close to the finish line but Rosol responded.
Did Nadal allow his opponent back in — or did Rosol go back to playing lights out tennis for a bit?
A little bit of both, the No. 3 seed said:
“He played a great game that game that he broke me back,” Nadal said. “I believe that I had an opportunity. I made a mistake at 3-0 in the 3rd, 15-30, second serve and I missed a return with my backhand. That was the moment to go score and win the match in that moment but was not the case; then, you play against a player that you don’t feel 100 percent comfortable because he’s able to hit the ball hard, so you aren’t winning in that moment and you don’t have the control 100 percent of the situation. That’s something that can happen.”
In the end — in similar fashion to the second set — Nadal got some help from the World No. 69, who sealed his own undoing and dropped seven of the final eight points to squander a 3-0 lead in the final set tiebreak to put Nadal through, 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(4).
Meanwhile, on the more intimate Court 2, Austria’s Dominic Thiem tried to get his first win over Robin Haase after two previous defeated at the hands of the qualifier. Much like on Centre Court, the first set way an utterly one-sided affair. Thiem came out relatively flat whereas Haase almost performed a rendition of “The Flying Dutchman,” hitting plenty of return winners and brushing the Austrian aside ostensibly in a bagel set.
The momentum didn’t necessarily shift, but the second set saw a different picture as both men held serve with relative ease — although Thiem still looked a little beside himself and low on energy. At the second, third and fourth changeovers of the set, the Austrian had the tour physio, doctor and supervisor Lars Graff on court.
“I felt a little nauseous — something I’ve been struggling with a little since Vienna — but he also played phenomenally in the first set,” Thiem said. “I played him twice before and lost both times. So somehow he knows exactly how to play against me and that’s what he did in the first set.”
Although not at his best physically, Thiem’s serve gained more steam in the second set, whereas Haase’s percentage dropped significantly as match went on.
“I began to serve better in the second and third set and when you win these kind of matches, there’s always a little bit of luck involved,” the Austrian said. “I managed to play a pretty good tiebreaker and ended up breaking him at exactly the right moment in the decider.”
Last week in his home tournament in Vienna and during the Asian swing, things didn’t really go according to plan for the 21-year-old, who was happy to get off to a winning start in Basel — no matter how rocky the road was in the 0-6, 7-6(5), 7-5 win.
“The last couple of weeks didn’t go all that well for me,” he said. “Asia and Vienna weren’t really ideal — hence I’m extremely happy and relieved that I won the match.”
Nadal was similarly glad about his narrow first round escape; an exuberant celebration was followed by a somewhat chilly handshake between him and Rosol at the end of the match — and appearances weren’t necessarily deceptive. After his match, the Spaniard was asked about his discussion with the supervisor after the Czech had complained that his opponent took too much time between points.
“Everything was good with the supervisor,” Nadal said. “Everybody knows I played against a player that…,” at this point Nadal paused, looking for an appropriate wording as a wry smile escaped his lips. “…. that is himself. I don’t want to talk more than what I need because it doesn’t make sense for me, but everybody knows him on tour.”
In the final match of the day, Donald Young took out Swiss wildcard Henri Laaksonen in — you guessed it — three sets to book his ticket into the second round, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. With the dust barely settled, tomorrow will see an action-packed day as hometown favorite Roger Federer is in action as well as fellow seeds John Isner, Richard Gasquet and David Goffin.
What did you make out of Nadal’s tight win? Sound of in the comments!