Nadal schools rising Sinner for important win in Rome

Rafael Nadal was made to work extremely hard on Wednesday in Rome, but the nine-time champion still managed to push past Italy’s Jannik Sinner in straight sets.

Rafael Nadal in action during his round of 32 match against Italy's Jannik Sinner
  • What happened? Rafael Nadal battled past Jannik Sinner in two tight sets to reach the round of 16 at Rome.
  • Why it matters: The Spaniard is trying to shake off a disappointing loss to Alexander Zverev in Madrid last week as he ramps up his Roland-Garros preparations.
  • You will also learn: Nadal’s next opponent in Rome.

Rafael Nadal was pushed from start to finish by 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner on Wednesday night at the Foro Italico, but the Spaniard found his way through a tense two hour and 10-minute affair, 7-5, 6-4.

It was far from easy.

Sinner fought tooth and nail to try and force a tiebreaker in the opening set, but Nadal finally converted his seventh set point to take the opener, 7-5.

In the second set Sinner, who struck his backhand magnificently all evening, moved ahead by a break but was unable to hold the advantage. Finally, with Nadal knocking on the door in the tenth game, Sinner bravely saved three match points, but Nadal lashed a forehand winner, his 19th of the evening, to close out his victory.

Nadal: Sinner’s level not a surprise 

Nadal says Sinner’s aggressive game did not surprise him, but the Spaniard admits that it was not easy to contend with.

“I hit some very good forehands, cross-courts too to avoid his great backhand cross, and then he has a great change down the line, no? So I think I did that well,” he said. “Is not a surprise for me. No, I know how good he is and the shots he has. He has great shots when he’s running. He has always great comebacks from tough positions, no? So, yeah, I know that. I was on court with big with respect for him and very focused every single moment. That’s why I am here with a victory.”

Nadal also added the the Italian is a very complete player that is improving steadily over time.

“I think Jannik is a very complete player, no?” he said. “He’s still improving all the time. You can’t appreciate the improvement in one day. I mean, to see the improvements of players, you need to follow them tournaments in a row, no? You follow him and you see that his level is higher and higher all the time.”

Sinner: It’s tough to accept

Certainly the Italian knew what he was up against on Wednesday, and yet, impressively, he believed he could win. He said he hoped for a better result than the straight set loss he suffered to Nadal at Roland-Garros last year.

“After 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,” said Sinner. “But, you know, tennis is, yeah, it’s 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.”

Shapovalov next for Nadal 

The nine-time Rome champion improves to 2-0 lifetime against Sinner and 64-7 at Rome. He will take on Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in the round of 16 on Thursday at Rome. Nadal owns a 2-1 lifetime edge over Shapovalov. The pair met at the same stage in Rome in 2018, with Nadal capturing the pair’s only match on clay, 6-4, 6-1.

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