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Nadal and Rublev Underwhelm in Barcelona Wins, Tsitsipas Still on Fire

Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas reacts during his second round match against Spanish Jaume Munar at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell tennis tournament in Barcelona, Spain, 21 April 2021. EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia

By Ricky Dimon 

It was a struggle for Rafael Nadal at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on Wednesday, but he managed to survive and advance. Although the 11-time Barcelona champion turned in a lackluster performance against Ilya Ivashka in the second round, he rebounded from a slow start to prevail 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal, who was coming off a surprising Monte-Carlo loss to Andrey Rublev, needed two hours and 20 minutes to book his spot in the last 16 alongside either Cristian Garin or Kei Nishikori.

“He played well,” the world No. 3 said of Ivashka. “He played at a very high level; I didn’t. I changed a little bit the way I played (after the first set); I started being more aggressive later…. I think I can improve a little bit of everything. But I will. I have the confidence that I am not too far from playing well, even if the last two matches were not perfect.”

Belarusian tennis player Ilya Ivaschka in action against Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal during the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell – Conde de Godo tournament round of 32 match in Barcelona, Spain, 21 April 2021. EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia

It was a tough day at the office for Rublev, as well. The Monte-Carlo runner-up showed up on court without any tennis rackets–you can’t make this stuff up–because all of them were with the stringer. Even when Rublev finally got his sticks, things did not get much better. The world No. 7 faced break points at 4-4 in the first set before righting the ship enough to get the job done in straights.

From start to finish, though, Rublev was frustrated with both the string tension in his rackets and his own behavior.

“It was more mental today,” the third seed admitted. “It was the way I was behaving after what I was trying to do in Monte-Carlo. I got the win, which is the most important thing, but I do feel angry. When you’re not thinking, you’re always trying to find excuses, but I need to control my emotions.”

Speaking of bad behavior, there was even more of it from a more likely source. Fabio Fognini was defaulted from his second-round match against Bernabe Zapata Miralles for unsportsmanlike conduct while trailing 6-0, 4-4.

There was at least one straightforward development on Wednesday. Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas had no trouble whatsoever as he opened in Barcelona with a 6-0, 6-2 beatdown of Jaume Munar. Tsitsipas won 88 percent of his first-serve points and saved all three of the break points he faced to cruise in one hour and 18 minutes.

“It’s great to be able to play tennis like this today, even with a little rain in the second set,” the world No. 5 commented. “I think I dealt with the situation well. I was serving well and felt comfortable from the baseline. I tried to be aggressive. My shots were working and I was trying to hit winners from all parts of the court.”

Next up for Tsitsipas is Alex de Minaur, a straight-set winner over Alexander Bublik.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.