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Nadal playing better every day as final approaches

This content was published 11 years ago. It may refer to a past edition of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

Towards the end of a tight first set, Rafael Nadal did what he does best – cranked it up a notch and pulled away from his opponent, leaving Richard Gasquet trailing in his wake. The 7-5, 6-1 win was in the balance for a good hour or so, but while the French no.16 seed with the elegant backhand and attacking mindset could not take the three break points which came his way, Nadal made no mistake when it was his turn. From 5-5, Nadal won eight of nine games to cruise into the final, and had an ominous warning for his opponent on Sunday.

“I am playing better every day. Another final – six in a row, it’s unbelievable. I had a tough week and so I am very happy for everything,” said the world no.1 in reference to his travails in the first round where qualifier Paolo Lorenzi, ranked 140 places below him in the world, took him to three sets, after which it was revealed that the Majorcan was suffering from a fever which almost led him to withdraw later in the week.

The match was of high quality, and for that to be the case, it needs two good players. “He is playing fantastic and he is scoring well,” said Nadal in praise of Gasquet. “It is fantastic – after winning against Roger (Federer) a very tough match and fighting a lot, all the time he was there, focused and fighting. I am happy to see him back at his best now. He is a good friend and he’s a really good guy. He played a very good first set, he played aggressive and he is better when he plays aggressive in my opinion. He stays three metres from the back of the baseline and he has enough potential to be more aggressive and he is doing some fantastic play in my opinion because he is a very confident player and he knows how to play tennis. It was a tough first set and I saved a few tough situations with myself and I played well today.”

Rafael Nadal versus Richard Gasquet: As it happened

3.48 pm: Rafael Nadal defeats Richard Gasquet 7-5, 6-1. It was nip and tuck for the first ten games, and then for the next nine (of which Rafa won eight), there was only one man in it. He’s done it on many an occasion in the past, and indeed champions throughout the ages have done it as well – weather the storm, then once the opponent has burnt a fair few of his cartridges, at around 4-4 or 5-5, pounce. And pounce he did. Like a panther. 

3.45 pm: 5-1 Rafa. Yup, Montserrat Caballe is practising her scales…

3.36 pm: 3-1 Rafa. Plenty of great points being played but Ritchie looks unlikely to get back into this match with Nadal looking back to the rudest of health after his (literally) febrile performances earlier in the weak.

3.26 pm: Rafa breaks and holds to open, 2-0. I believe that the die has been cast…

3.14 pm: Rafa takes the first set 7-5, saving a break point with a big service in the process. Then at deuce we have a point for the ages, with Ritchie dominating, coming into the net, Rafa throwing up an ideal lob and then dominating the rest of the exchange himself until he has Ritchie on the ropes, then he fires a forehand down the line for the win. Typical Rafa – not quite Mohammed Ali rope-a-dope tactics for ten games, but he withstood everything that Ritchie had to offer, saving the break points then pouncing at exactly the right moment.

3.06 pm: 5-6. Rafa does that Rafa thing – at 5-all he suddenly starts firing down absolute bullet returns and breaks to 15. Poor Ritchie doesn’t know what hit him – he carved out 3 BPs earlier in the set including two at 15-40 but couldn’t quite take them. Rafa then goes: “Right. 5-5. Time to break. VAMOS!

2.58 pm: 5-4. Ritchie’s coming into the net like Federer 2007, but Rafa’s not passing him like Rafa .v. Fed 2007. Big test to come.

2.49 pm: 4-3. Ritchie takes the crucialissimo seventh game to 15, at a canter. And he’s fiddling with his grip again, as is his wont. So, will Rafa do his Rafa thing and hold-break-hold either now or when it’s 4-5, or will Ritchie’s sheer weight of break points finally pay off? I can see Rafa doing the Rafa thing.

2.46 pm: 3-3. Two break points this time for Ritchie, but Rafa against steps up to the plate. The second one was saved with a second service that kicked out of the left-hand corner of the Ad court and would have landed way back in the crowd if Gasquet hadn’t somehow reached it – in vain though…

2.33 pm: 2-2. Ritchie holds to 30 again and then carves out a break point at 30-40 on Rafa’s service, but the Majorcan steps up with a big service when he needs it most.

2.20 pm: 1-1. Ritchie holds to 30 to open (the 30 coming on second serves, something he’ll have to watch out for), and then Rafa holds to 15. Jean Gachassin, the president of the French Tennis Federation, is watching Gasquet’s progress.

2.05 pm: Out comes Gasquet first, and then the poor guy has to wait alongside the court and listen to the roar for five-time champion Nadal’s entrance! Rafa leads their h2h by a mere 8-0, including a quick 2 and 4 at Monte Carlo this year. The toss is performed and Rafa zog-zags back to the baseline, as always.

1.50 pm: Afternoon everyone, and welcome to the men’s semi-finals! Nadal – Gasquet is about to start, with Djokovic versus Murray at 8, both on Centre Court.

I reckon it’ll be a couple of hard-fought two-setters with the top two in the world emerging victorious. What say you? Tweet me @DrewLilley and let me know.

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