China Open, Beijing
[CR8] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. [CR30] Jack Sock (USA)
The first set was a muted affair, neither player was impressive with their initial energy level. Perhaps the strained atmosphere was the result of nervous tension. Both players held their first service game. I thought that was enough for Nadal to settle into the match; however, Nadal’s game continues to be unpredictable. For no apparent reason, he was broken in the third game. Although he had opportunities to break back, he failed to convert on any of his four chances. Sock played well, but nothing that would account for Nadal’s loss of the first set. No disrespect to my fellow American. Nadal is losing sets and matches due to a combinations of two reasons: his lack of belief negatively impacts his execution of shots and his opponents, those capable of doing so, take advantage of his poorly executed shots.
Having said that and despite the loss of the first set, this was the best match I have seen from Nadal in a long time. There were still some uncharacteristic errors from him; however, I sensed that he was much calmer in the second set and that resulted in better timing of his shots. Fighting off the break points when he served for the second set was a huge factor in building his confidence going forward. He will need that as his next opponent is none other than his recent nemesis, Fabio Fognini. Once Nadal won the second set, it solidified his tenuous belief and Sock’s focus seemed to disappear. I am somewhat surprised that he was unable to build on the momentum gained from winning the first set. Yet, Nadal is still a fierce competitor and you have to beat him, he will not give you the match. The 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory was a nice recovery for Nadal. Can he avoid another loss to Fognini?