The last time Denis Istomin played Rafael Nadal, at the 2010 U.S. Open, he lost in straight sets but was rewarded for one amazing shot with an unusual gift from the Uzebkistan tennis federation—a refrigerator. By the end of their rematch today, Istomin looked punch-drunk enough to want to fly home and stick his head right in it, on the wrong end of a trademark Nadal battering, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0.
The lanky, 43rd-ranked Istomin has yet to win back-to-back matches on clay this season and never looked like accomplishing that feat today, although consdering the opposition, he can hardly be faulted for that. Nadal was imperious in almost all respects; although he failed to strike a winner off the backhand side, it hardly seemed necessary when he hit 25 of them off the forehand wing, his best shot and its most fearsome on this red clay. Istomin held his first service game to love but after that barely got a look in the first set, broken twice.
If Istomin has anything to reproach himself with, it will be his failure to take his opportunities in the second set. Curiously, while Nadal served at 48 percent in the first set, he did not face a single break point; in the second, his percentage rose to 74 with a concomitant drop in ambition and pace, allowing Istomin to make more returns, although he struggled to get the ball in the court with Rafa serving to his backhand throughout.
Istomin’s first hint of a chance came with Nadal serving at 1-2, after a framed forehand and a lucky netcord got him to 30-30. At deuce, Istomin played probably his best shot of the match, a lob which set up a forehand winner for break point. Nadal’s ensuing serve was merely decent, but Istomin could not put the return in court; unsurprisingly, he played a loose game and was broken immediately afterwards. Events played out similarly with Nadal serving to consolidate that break, after a loose forehand and a surprising smash into the net gave Istomin his second break point. This time, Istomin got a soft second serve; again, he could not make the return.
Istomin, broken again for the set, started to look increasingly weary and frustrated, while Nadal shook off the slight tremors of the second set and began to flow from forehand to forehand, creating the kind of organic, impenetrable tennis that makes him so dominant at Roland Garros. Nadal ended by having converted seven out of 15 break points, sealing the match with a serve and unreturnable forehand winner. It was a typically dominant performance which we may expect to see repeated in the next round against either Florian Mayer or Eduardo Schwank.