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Nadal mounts another miraculous comeback to get past Korda in Indian Wells • BNP Paribas Open 2022

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Sebastian Korda of the United States during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 12 March 2022. EPA-EFE/RAY ACEVEDO

By Ricky Dimon

Although Rafael Nadal is perfect in 2022, he has flirted with defeat more than a few times. Most notably, of course, he had to recover from two sets down to triumph over Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final.

Nadal was up to similar tricks in his first match at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday afternoon. The stage was nowhere near as big, but the deficit was even bigger. Instead of being one set away from his first loss of the season, the 35-year-old Spaniard was one game away — three times, too.

Sebastian Korda had a chance to close out what would have been the most important victory of his career at 5-2, 5-3, and 5-4 in the third set–twice serving for it–only to see Nadal rise from the proverbial dead. The 21-time Grand Slam champion staged another improbable comeback to prevail 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(3) after two hours and 29 minutes.

“I thought I was lost today,” Nadal admitted. “And in Australia–very similar feeling. Even if I think I’m going to lose the match, my mindset before returning that 5-2 game is, ‘Okay, I am playing bad…. But even if I’m going to lose, I’m going to try to finish the match having some better feelings. So I need to fight to find these better feelings in that last game.

“I played a little bit better; he had some mistakes. Then with 5-3, if you are able to save that game, 5-4, you never know what can happen…. With 5-4, one break, as I say, if you are able to hit a couple of good balls, the opponent gets a little bit nervous, something (like) that happens every single week on the tour.”

Rafael Nadal (L) greets Sebastian Korda after defeating him during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 12 March 2022. EPA-EFE/RAY ACEVEDO

It’s not every week, however, that Korda gets to play against his idol. In fact, this was just their second head-to-head matchup–and even in defeat it went a lot better for the 21-year-old American than his 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 loss at the 2020 French Open.

Korda was actually all smiles in his press conference despite missing such a huge opportunity.

“It’s progress,” the world No. 38 assured. “He’s one of the greatest players of all time right now; he’s super hot; hasn’t lost a match this year. To kind of push him to the edge was awesome. (It) shows a lot of my game, how dangerous it can be against tough opponents. Yeah, just overall happy.

“I don’t think there’s any negatives. He’s the best player in the world right now; hasn’t lost a match this year–three tournaments, three titles. To be that close, it’s a lot of positives. It shows me that my game is going to hurt a lot of people. People are going to get nervous. People are going to get worried.”

Nadal, though, isn’t most people. At least right now, he isn’t getting hurt, nervous, or worried–no matter how big a deficit might be.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.