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Nadal Endures Tough Test, Battles Into Barcelona Round of 16

” He played much better. I didn’t, so the match was tough and I always accept the challenge when you play against any player,” said Rafael Nadal after his comeback win over Belarusian qualifier Ilya Ivashka at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell . EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia

Sporting purple Nike shoes emblazoned with “Rafa” across the heel, Rafael Nadal stepped on the Barcelona court bearing his name eager to reclaim his identity. 

For one set, qualifier Ilya Ivashka pushed an insecure Nadal around his own court.

Then the top seed put his foot down to reclaim his clay-court domain.

Overcoming a tentative start, Nadal restored order playing progressively sharper in each set scoring a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 comeback win to reach the Barcelona Open round of 16. 

Launching his quest for a record-extending 12th Barcelona crown, Nadal improved to an eye-popping 62-4 in Barcelona though it wasn’t easy.

Afterward, Nadal conceded he wasn’t pleased with his level of play though he was happy with the fight put forth.

“Honestly, he played well and honestly I didn’t. So when this kind of stuff happens, the matches are tough competing at the highest level,” Nadal said. “Today, even though his ranking is 100-something, his level was not the level of 100-something. He played much better. I didn’t, so the match was tough and I always accept the challenge when you play against any player.

“There are days you need to run, you need to fight and you don’t have the best feelings and you need to find a way to win the match. And proud about that because tomorrow I’m going to have another opportunity.”

11-time Barcelona champion Rafael Nadal improved to 62-4 lifetime at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia

Questions surrounded the king of clay like the light mist spraying across the red clay clay minutes before Nadal’s return today.

How would the 11-time champion, who struggled to land first serves in his Monte-Carlo quarterfinal loss to Andrey Rublev, bounce back in Barcelona?

Questions lingered as a nervy Nadal scattered a pair of backhands wide ceding the opening break in a shaky start.

The top seed made just five of his first 16 first serves yet still managed to hold in the third game.

Court coverage figured to favor the 13-time Roland Garros champion, who slides with self-assurance at his best while the 6’4″ Ivashka can cover chunks of ground with long strides he doesn’t always take the short preparation steps to ensure proper spacing between his body and the ball.

Still Ivashka was handling Nadal’s heavy topspin effectively stepping in cracking his flat drives with vigor and wisely shortening rallies in testing the Spaniard’s serve in successive deuce games. The world No. 111 stamped his most emphatic hold of the set for 5-3.

Resetting, Nadal broke to start the second set and slid his first ace down the T backing up the break for 2-0.  The 34-year-old Spaniard was turning his shoulders into his shots with more conviction as he registered his first love hold for 3-1.

Two hours of going toe-to-toe with Nadal on his namesake court proved to be too punishing for Ivashka midway through the final set.

Driving the bigger man corner-to-corner, Nadal swooped in for a backhand drop volley for love-30. That energy-sapping point took life from the legs and lungs of Ivashka who surrendered serve at love in the seventh game.  Nadal confirmed the break at 30 for 5-3.

The former world No. 1 closed in two hours, 19 minutes raising his career record to 103-1 in opening-round clay-court matches.