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Nadal twists Roddick tie on a tiebreak

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Originally published on: 23/11/10 02:04

Rafael Nadal atoned for his limp debut at London’s inaugural hosting of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with a battling victory over Andy Roddick in his opening showing at this year’s event.

The Spaniard, who spent the last five weeks on the sidelines in an attempt to recover from a shoulder injury, survived an early onslaught to clinch a 3-6 7-6(5) 6-4 triumph in front of a near-full and – plenty rowdy – house at the O2 Arena on Monday night.

“I was a little bit lucky tonight,” admitted Nadal after an engrossing match that both players admitted was effectively decided on the second set tiebreak.

Contesting what was arguably the showpiece tie of the tournament so far – and the only one of the four opening singles clashes to have extended to three sets – Nadal and Roddick emerged on court with minds firmly on the matter in hand. So much so, both walked out of the tunnel without the Barclays mascots – Roddick, because his didn’t fancy holding his hand and gave up halfway to the net. Rafa, well, Rafa simply clean forgot. The world No.1 marched to his seat and laid down his racket bag before the poor youngster could even get so far as the court from the tunnel.

No matter (except perhaps for the mum’s and dad’s of the overlooked children) – there was a battle to be fought. Nadal was intent on the win that would help erase memories of the limp showing that saw him fall to three straight defeats at the event last year, and Roddick had reason to be doubly determined too, since injury had cruelly ruled him out of the tournament’s London debut.

Perhaps still riled by the memory, Roddick opened in aggressive fashion and after fighting off two break points in his opening service game, promptly scored an immediate break after capitalising on two Nadal double faults. The 28-year-old didn’t give Nadal a glimmer of a break back in his next service game, notching up a 3-0 lead with three 140mph-plus aces on the bounce.

Utilising the varied game plan that saw him rally back from the loss of the first set to defeat the world No.1 in their last meeting in Miami this March, Roddick took the game to Nadal. Just like his match in Key Biscayne, the American knew he wouldn’t out-rally the Spaniard from the back of the court, instead opting for regular forays to the net when his first serve didn’t do the business, which it often did – Roddick had struck 17 aces on the supposedly slow courts by the match’s end.

Even though the Nebraska-native didn’t hit a single winner in the first set, his varied game plan forced uncharacteristic errors from Nadal and allowed him to take the opener 6-3. Nadal fought back in the second, recovering from another early break before taking the set to a tie-break – arguably the turning point of the match.

“It hinged on the breaker,” admitted Roddick in his post-match press conference after seeing Nadal recover from an early mini-break to force a deciding set. “The two points I feel won him the match were when he hit two really good second serve returns there in the breaker.”

Nadal, 24, was the more dominant from there-on, closing out the victory in two hours and 34 minutes, but Roddick maintained that while there only looked to be one winner after the second set tiebreak, his narrow defeat had nothing to do with mental or physical tiredness.

“I wasn’t tired at all. I came out of the gates aggressively, and I think it caught him by surprise,” he said. “He definitely wasn’t settled comfortably. He was missing more balls than normal.”

A three-time semi-finalist at the prestigious eight-man event, Roddick  next faces first-time World Tour Finalist Tomas Berdych, while Nadal – buoyed by his 68th match win of the season – will face Novak Djokovic on Wednesday evening in a hotly anticipated re-match of the US Open final.

In the earlier doubles, Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor swept through their opening Group B encounter, beating Wes Moodie and Dick Norman 6-1 6-2 in just 57 minutes.

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