Sunday 10 February 2013

Vina Del Mar : Zeballos d. Nadal

There had been a lot of hype going on during the week surrounding Rafael Nadal's return to the courts after 7 months absence due to injury (or to shake off the Wimbledon loss suffered at the hands of Lukas Rosol???).

Nadal seemed not to have missed a step as he won his matches handily and made the final of Vina Del Mar, the clay event he returned on. Nadal was impressive in not only making the finals of the singles but doubles also, alongside his friend Juan Monaco.

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Nadal was aiming foe his 51st career title, while Zeballos was trying to win his first career title. Everything seemed in order for Nadal to complete his come-back with a title and send a message to his top 3 rivals (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray), since Nadal had never lost to a left-hander on clay. The message was definitely sent, but not what Nadal had wanted or anyone would have expected. Zeballos had the determination and the will of an iron man.

It was a similar day to that fateful day of Wimbledon for Nadal, who won the first set in tie-break, but his opponent, Zeballos (Rosol at Wimbledon), did not give up and remained focused and concentrated and gave Nadal a little more than Nadal could handle. Zeballos won his first career title with style defeating the clay king on his home (CLAY), in a gripping 3 set match 6-7(2) 7-6(6) 6-4.

Nadal was riding a 15-match clay court winning streak and an inhumane 36-4 record in the clay court finals, and had soundly beaten Zaballos in their only prior meeting. The pair met in 2010 Roland Garros when Zeballos could only win 7 games off Nadal who would go on to win the title. However, all of this went down the drain as the match progressed, as Zeballos put up a great fighting show and avenged his Roland Garros loss.

Zeballos opened the match by holding his serve and had a look at two break points in the opening game of Nadal, but they were quickly erased by Nadal. The match went on serve and to the tie-break, once into the tie-break Nadal raced ahead in no time and hit an inside out forehand winner to seal the first set.

It seemed like losing such a tight first set in which he did not even face break point will have an impact on Zeballos and he will fade away in the second set, but like Rosol in Wimbledon, Zeballos brought everything out everything he had in the second set to fend off two break points he faced and send the set into tie-break. Zeballos raced ahead 6-4 in the tie-break only to see Nadal level at 6-all, but even that did not sent him into a nervous frenzy and he held his own and answered Nadal, by winning the second set by ripping a forehand winner of his own and levelling the match at one set a piece.

Nadal opened the third set by breaking Zeballos at love, and just like Wimbledon (when Nadal had won the fourth set), everyone thought the things were in order now. However, as it turned out, things were in order for everyone not named Rafael Nadal, as Zeballos broke right back to bring the set back on serve. The set stayed on serve from then on till 5-4 when Zeballos hit a wonderful running forehand cross-court winner to bring 3 match points, and he needed only one as Nadal sent the ball into the net on the first match point and with that Zeballos had won his first career title and that too over the King of Clay in a hard fought 2 hours and 46 minutes battle. He fell on his back to celebrate the win, and leave Nadal pondering what is next for him. However, Nadal can take out the positives from this match, and build on his match play, one thing that he will need the most during the rest of the year.

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