Back in action—and on clay—Nadal rolls, setting up Zverev showdown

by: Ed McGrogan | April 06, 2018

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Rafael Nadal had no trouble against Philipp Kohlschreiber during his return to action, on clay, in Davis Cup. (AP)

It doesn't matter how well or how poorly Bubba Watson is playing on the PGA Tour before The Masters—it is only when he arrives at Augusta National Golf Club, where he is a two-time champion, that we can truly make an assessment of his game.

It doesn't matter how many points the Washington Capitals have accumulated during the National Hockey League's endless slog of a regular season—the perennial playoff underachievers will always be judged by how well they do in the postseason. (The jury is still out.)

And, most of all, it doesn't matter what Rafael Nadal does on hard courts before the tennis tours make their way to Europe for the clay-court season—the 10-time Roland Garros champion, if healthy, is always going to be the man to beat on the red stuff.

That maxim was proven, once again, today in Valencia, where Spain hosted Germany in a Davis Cup quarterfinal. With a bullring appropriately serving as the venue for Nadal's return to competitive action—the 31-year-old has been out since the Australian Open with a hip injury—the Spaniard brushed aside Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. The win leveled the tie after Day 1, with German star-in-the-making Alexander Zverev defeating David Ferrer in similarly one-sided fashion, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. It also whet our appetites for Sunday's scheduled fourth rubber between Nadal and Zverev, who many believe will win some French Open titles of his own some day.

MATCH POINT:

That day may still be a ways away, based on Nadal's performance today. Kohlschreiber is hardly a pushover, even if Nadal has made him look that way in the past. Coming into today's contest, the 34th-ranked German was 1-14 against Nadal, his solitary moment of success coming on grass, arguably Nadal's worst surface.

But on Nadal's best surface—slow in the literal sense; fast ice to his sharpened skates in reality—Kohlschreiber stood little chance. Nadal's forehands where flying towards Kohlschreiber's one-handed backhand, and unlike Roger Federer in 2017, it wasn't able to repel the southpaw's signature shot. As Nadal does, he continuously applied pressure to his opponent, adding more importance to Kohlschreiber's service games. Without the benefit of a faster service to generate easy points with on serve, Kohlschreiber was left to rally against the player whose talents are unquestioned and whose fitness appeared to be unaffected by extended absence.

We'll get an even better look at where Nadal is on Sunday, when he faces the world No. 4 in by far the weekend's most compelling Davis Cup match (to be shown live on Tennis Channel Plus). One of the two players will be in a must-win situation, but for neutral tennis fans, it's a win-win to see two of the game's best—Zverev on the heels of a run to the Miami Masters final; Nadal seemingly comfortable once again—go at it in a dramatic, pressure-packed setting.


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