Any fears that Rafael Nadal’s most reliable shot, his bolo forehand, had decided to vacation outside of Spain this week were dismissed by his win today over Ivan Dodig.
Significantly cutting back on the unforced errors that plagued his game yesterday during a surprisingly difficult opening match, Nadal improved to 41-0 in Barcelona in a comfortable hour and 23 minutes, 6-3, 6-3.
Dodig, a successful doubles player (he’s ranked No. 6), knows the value of attacking and closing on the net, and in the first set he did a good job pressuring Nadal, taking all the chances that are mandatory for anyone who simply doesn’t have the legs or shotmaking consistency to engage with him in rallies.
The world No. 1 made Dodig’s job somewhat easier in the early stages, as his suddenly erratic forehand continued to misbehave. But that doesn’t mean Nadal was in trouble; it means that his opponent managed to stay even with him for four games. In the fifth game, all those body punches with which Nadal likes to soften up opponents began to pay off.
At 15-all, Nadal forced a long rally at the end of which Dodig seemed to run out of steam. The Croat hit a sloppy forehand, and in the following point smacked a wild forehand long before the rally matured. That gave Nadal a break point, and he made the most of it, attacking the net behind a vicious inside-out forehand that forced a Dodig forehand pass error.
The surprising thing, certainly for anxious Nadal partisans, is that the top seed then played a truly lousy game to give the break right back. The game-ender that made it 3-all was an inside-in forehand Nadal hit at 30-40. It was a puzzling, unexpected miss of what is usually a gimme for Nadal under such circumstances. If Dodig were any more of a player, or Nadal any less of one, that might have been a critical lapse.
Perhaps Dodig was distracted by his turn of good fortune. Whatever the case, he promptly fell behind love-40, saved a break point when Nadal missed a backhand return, and then double-faulted to give the advantage right back.
This time, Nadal made the most of opportunity to consolidate the break, and then broke Dodig again to end the set. After 43 minutes, Nadal’s forehand finally seemed dialed in and Dodig, already struggling to keep up his high level, seemed to need a breather—and a fresh start.
Dodig did regroup, and managed a hold to reach 1-1 in the second set. Nadal then held, and raced out to a 0-40 lead on Dodig’s ensuing service game. Dodig saved the first break point when Nadal cut a drop shot too fine, but he capitulated with a wild forehand error. This time, Nadal consolidated with ease, and it was 4-1.
Dodig seemed to know that it would take something special for him to beat Nadal—he’s done it before, at the 2011 Montreal Masters—and in the next game he auditioned a few beauties. He won the first point with a brilliant touch volley, coming in behind his serve. During the next point, Nadal hit a high-bouncing forehand to the service line on Dodig’s side. Dodig faked one of those bunny-hop backhands and in mid-stroke—and mid-air—turned it into a winning drop shot. It was a slick move, and it helped him win the game to stay in contention at 2-4.
Nadal held the next game, and in his turn so did Dodig. Nadal then served it out with no hesitation or drama.
Stat of the Match: Nadal put 75 percent of his first serves into the box and was just as lethal with his dozen second serves, converting the point nine times in 12 tries.