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Nadal too strong for Isner in Rome opener

The Spaniard saved two break points at 3-3 in the opener and then pulled away for victory and a clash with Denis Shapovalov

Rafael Nadal Rome R2 2022 Inside / Panoramic

Rafael Nadal opened his bid for a record 11th Rome Masters title with an increasingly confident 6-3, 6-1 win over American John Isner on Wednesday.

The 35-year-old saved two break points at 3-3 in the first set, broke in the following game and romped through the rest of the match to book his place in the third round, where he’ll meet Denis Shapovalov – a repeat of their clash in Rome last year, when the Canadian had match point before losing.

“I finished better than I started, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “The beginning of the match was not good for me. He had break points with not difficult balls, so I was in his hands then. Then I was able to break and the match changed.”

Beaten in the quarter-finals in Madrid by Carlos Alcaraz in his first event back after fracturing a rib in Indian Wells, Nadal began a little hesitantly as the 37-year-old Isner mixed up his serve speeds cleverly.

In their seven previous matches, Isner had only broken the Nadal serve three times but at 3-3, three tentative points from Nadal, including a framed volley in the net, gave Isner break point.

He missed the first one with a mis-hit backhand wide but then missed an even better chance on the second, firing a mid-court forehand long.

That was Isner’s chance. Nadal held and then in the following game, broke serve when Isner netted a simple forehand volley. The Spaniard duly closed out the set.

A 13-time Roland-Garros champion, Nadal has never lost back-to-back matches on clay and a break of serve in the first game of the second allowed him to settle even more.

The 21-times Grand Slam champion broke again for 4-1 and served out with ease to take his place in round three and another match against Shapovalov, who pushed him to the limit last year.

“The match last year was a joke,” Nadal said. “I was super-lucky. I know how dangerous he is and I need to play better than I did today, but I will try to do that.”

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