Faced with a trickier opponent after joyless performances in the early rounds, Rafael Nadal played as if the chains had been struck off, imperious in defeating Janko Tipsarevic, 6-2, 6-2.
While the scoreline adequately reflects the degree of Nadal’s mastery today, it’s in danger of occluding how well Tipsarevic also played. Their last meeting was a debacle for the Serb, but that was before Tipsarevic transformed himself into a Top 10 player, and this match reflected his evolution. He was simply outclassed, as was evident from the very first game; every point Tipsarevic won was either a service winner or a two-shot combination, but as soon as he was drawn into a long rally he struggled with finding a good balance between patience and aggression. Nadal for the most part came out on top, taking an early break after Tipsarevic sent an ill-advised smash straight back to Rafa, who promptly whipped a forehand pass without blinking.
It was Tipsarevic who often came up with the more eye-catching play—for example, serving at 0-2, he produced a combination of a feather-light dropshot and delicately-weighted lob; a couple of points later, a stretch volley on the backhand that turned an impossible position into a winner; a couple of games later, he hit a forehand down the line so well that it elicited a ‘bravo’ from Nadal. But as good as Tipsarevic was today, Nadal was always in charge. It was perhaps the most out-and-out aggressive performance we have seen from Nadal in some time, and as a consequence he made some unforced errors and was often in trouble on his serve. But every time it was Nadal who came up with the bigger and better shots at the right moments.
At 4-1, with the door ajar for Tipsarevic at 0-15, the Serb made a brilliant angled return, only for Nadal to wrap the ball around the net post and into the corner; he went on to hold at 15. Serving at 5-2, Tipsarevic earned himself three break points—which Nadal erased one by one with huge forehands before closing out the first set.
Nadal went on to break Tipsarevic effortlessly at love to open the second set. Tipsarevic leveled things up briefly, but Nadal took the advantage again when an poorly-timed approach to the Spaniard’s forehand was predictably punished. Having momentarily let the advantage slip, Nadal came up with his two best service holds to complete the match, sealing it with consecutive aces.
Earlier in the year, we saw Nadal struggle to close out more than a few matches; it might be too early to say that’s a thing of the past, but everything he did today reeked of confidence. Even the errors he made seemed to grow out of having the courage to experiment and push himself to make better and more seemingly impossible shots than before.