Nadal and Murray fight back for Indian Wells wins

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Rafael Nadal's Indian Wells title defence got off to a rocky start on Saturday, as the world number one was forced to fight to a three-set victory over Radek Stepanek.

Nadal needed nearly two and a half hours to get past the talented Czech 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, with eight double faults doing little to help his cause in the second-round clash.

Meanwhile, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, the fifth seed, fought back from a set down against another Czech, subduing Lukas Rosol 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The going was easier for four-time champion Roger Federer and fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, who is playing his first tournament since his Australian Open triumph.

Federer defeated France's Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) while Wawrinka, seeded third, downed Croatian Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 7-5 in just 63 minutes.

"It was a difficult match to start against Ivo," said Wawrinka. "It's never easy. He's a tough player.

"He doesn't give you so much rhythm. But I'm really happy the way I was playing, the way I was aggressive on the court, and to win in straight sets was really important for me."

Nadal said Stepanek was a similarly tough opening opponent, his unpredictability making it hard to get in a groove.

"What you want to find in the first (match) is rhythm, and against him every point is different," Nadal said.

Nadal appeared to have gained control of the contest when he won the second set with a single service break and broke again to open the third. He immediately gave the break back, however, and had to save three break points before holding in the sixth game.

"It was a tricky situation in the 0-40," said Nadal, who responded to the danger with a service winner, an ace and a backhand passing winner. "After that, I think I played better. 

For Murray, early struggles at Indian Wells are nothing new. Murray reached the final on the hardcourts of the California desert in 2009, but he had lost his openers in two of the past three years.

"Today, I was a set and a break down," he said. "I got broken three times in a row at the end of the first set, beginning of the second. You know, I just kind of kept going and found a way to win, which is always the most important thing."

Colombia's Alejandro Falla came back from 2-5 down in the third set to beat 18th-seed Jerzy Janowicz of Poland 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7/5), saving one match point on the way.

Falla will take on Canadian Milos Raonic, who pounded 33 aces past France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin in a 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (7/2) victory.

In women's action top seed Li Na, who won her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, won an all-Chinese clash with Zheng Jie 6-1, 7-5.

Fourth-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova got her title defence off to a strong start with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Germany's Julia Goerges.

"I thought I did what I had to do," said Sharapova, a former world number one who is trying to reach her first final of 2014.

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Roberto Bautista Agut: In search of next level after superb start to 2014

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For someone who’s uber competitive on court, Roberto Bautista Agut is very quiet off it.

Ranked No53 in the world, the 25-year-old may create less of a buzz than the eight other Spaniards placed higher than him in the ATP rankings, but he has made plenty of noise thanks to a victory over Juan Martin del Potro in the Australian Open second round.

Sport360° caught up with Bautista Agut and his Spanish coach Pedro Rico at the Lacoste Lounge at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last week.

You started the year with a bang, beating Juan Martin del Potro in the Australian Open. How did that feel and how did you handle the big victory and manage to win again to reach the fourth round?
I had a good start to the season. I played well the week before in Auckland, where I reached semis. I was serving for the match in the semi-finals against John Isner but I couldn’t win in the end.

The week in Auckland helped me to play more relaxed the following week, to play better. I played one of the best matches of my career against del Potro and I managed to beat him.

It was a good tournament. In the next round I was a little bit tired because of a lot of new emotions were going on there, but it was a good start to the season for me.

It wasn’t the first time you’d beaten a top- 10 player, but when you step on the court against someone like del Potro in a grand slam, do you favour your chances to win?
When I step on the court I do everything I can to try and win the match and against del Potro, after the first set, my feeling was ‘I think if I play good, I will be closer to winning’.

What was the reaction like in Spain after your win?
We have a lot of players in Spain, six or seven near the top. [Rafael] Nadal is taking up a big portion of the news, but in my city, my win was big news. It was the same after I played in the Davis Cup.

So I’m just happy and I’m enjoying [the attention].

I believe you were quite the footballer when you were young…
I like football a lot. I played for Villarreal and I liked it more than tennis.

But sometimes you have to choose. And I chose tennis because I had to change from the small field to the big field and they made me play with the older guys, and I wasn’t comfortable at that age to change my friends, to change my team-mates and this was one of the reasons why I stuck to tennis.

Now that you’ve made a second week in a grand slam, have your expectations of yourself gone up? 
I feel good. I’ve been doing a lot of work for three years.

My expectations are the same – to keep working, to stay focused on every day and then the results will come.

With Andy Murray winning two slams in the last two years, and now Stanislas Wawrinka winning Australia, do you think the upcoming majors are going to be more open?
Maybe not Roland Garros [laughs], but maybe the other ones are a little bit more open. But I think there’s still a big difference between the top guys and the rest of the players in the slams.

So how long have you been sponsored by Lacoste?
I’ve been playing in Lacoste clothes since I was 14, so it’s already 11 years with them.

What kind of things do you do off court that aren’t related to tennis?
I have two horses and one dog and I like to spend a lot of time with them. One horse is called Bagheera, like from The Jungle Book, and the other one is Janto.

I go riding in the mountains any chance I can. At least once or twice a week when I’m at home in Castellon.

Who were your idols growing up? 
One of my idols was Raul Gonzalez and, from tennis, Juan Carlos Ferrer and David Ferrer. 

What kind of qualities do you think you have that make you a tough player?
I think I’m a good competitor. I play a lot of weeks in the same level and my game is good for every surface.

I grew up playing only on clay but now I can play on anything.

You must be thrilled that your team, Villarreal, are doing well this season, with you guys fifth in La Liga…
My team is doing well. We were unlucky two years ago, and we got relegated, but they’re a pretty solid team now.

I like the work the president is doing now, as well as the coach. We are hoping that they can play in the Europa League next year. We have a chance.

Who do you think will shine for Spain this summer in Brazil?
I think we have a lot of good players but I like Isco a lot. [Alvaro] Negredo is doing very well and Diego Costa I think will be the star of the World Cup.

Pedro, when did you start working with Roberto?
We started in December, only a few months ago. We’ve known each other for many years but we just started recently and we've started pretty well.

He’s been working great for the last few years, so these results didn’t happen just because I started with him. We’ve been lucky that we had a good start together and hopefully we can keep it up.

Were you surprised that he could back up the win over del Potro with more victories like that?
Since we started the year, he’s been practicing and competing well pretty much every day. And we’re focusing a lot on that, staying solid every day and I think it’s working.

He made it to the semis in Auckland, beat del Potro, went to the fourth round in the Australian Open and he’s still winning matches.

I think because he really knows that he has to keep it up every day, in practice and in competition and it’s working.

What’s the goal for this year?
To stay healthy and to have a long year. Last year Roberto had a couple of injuries and during the clay season he couldn’t play many tournaments.

So our goal for this year is just to stay healthy, have a solid season and play more tournaments than last year. He’s competing well, he’s pretty confident with his philosophy of play.

So there’s no extra pressure now that he’s reached the fourth round of a Slam?
The pressure is on every day and every match is like a war. It’s so tough to win one match.

So our main goal is to stay strong every day, and give our best every day. If we can go to second week in the next slam that would be perfect but it’s tough.

If he gives me his best and loses in the first round, what can we do?

Del Potro lost in the second round in Australia and he’s a top-10 player.

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Sproule insists MWTC will maintain its appeal

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Clash with the capital: Rafa Nadal will have to chose whether to play in Abu Dhabi.

Organisers of the Mubadala World Championships are confident the International Premier Tennis League will not impact on its future, despite just over two weeks separating the scheduled end of the new competition and the start of the Abu Dhabi tournament.

The last leg of the IPTL is set to run in Dubai from December 11-14, three weeks after the Davis Cup final, traditionally the final event of the season.

The MWTC will be held on January 1-3, 2015, representing the unofficial start to the new campaign as players fine-tune their game after the Christmas break.

With Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Jo Wilfried Tsonga – who played in Abu Dhabi last December – all participating in the IPTL, the desire for an extended rest before the Australian Open in January could therefore see them opt out of the MWTC.

However Greg Sproule, Middle East Managing Director of tournament organisers IMG, believes the MWTC’s status as an excellent warm up for Australia will maintain its prestige among the world’s best.

Sproule told Sport360°: “While I can’t comment on a particular player’s schedule at this early stage of the IPTL roll out, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship will continue to do the same as we have done in the past by engaging in professional and mutually-beneficial discussions with players to participate in the Championship.

“Our aim has been – and always will be – to assemble the best player field we can for our tournament, and also to do the very best we can to make the players and their families feel welcome and well looked after – which is what Abu Dhabi has become so well known for.

“We believe that Abu Dhabi and the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is a great place for players to train and to begin their journey to the Australian Open.”

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