There was nothing fluorescent about Rafael Nadal on Monday. For a change, he wore white, and the brand of tennis he churned out partnering Bartolome Salva-Vidal at the Chennai Open was anything but flashy, as the Spanish duo shocked defending champions Michal Mertinak and Petr Pala 6-1, 6-3 in the first round.
It was unusual for a blue riband event like this that none of the top guns played singles on the opening day. However, it was a day when Nadal treated his fans to the nuances of doubles.
After every point, Nadal went to his 20-year-old partner to discuss strategy. For all those, who have got used to seeing the Spaniard unleashing forehands from the baseline, this was a day when the world’s second best player played with finesse more than power.
Nadal’s touch at the net was a revelation and he executed more volleys than what he would opt for even at the Wimbledon in singles.
It was not the most auspicious start for Mertinak and Pala as the former was broken in the very first game. For all those who have been critical of Nadal getting the doubles wild card, this was the evening when they were silenced once and for all.
In half an hour’s time, Salva-Vidal was also in top gear, as he hit a forehand winner to clinch the first set. There was no change in Mertinak’s poor form in the second set too, as he netted a volley to give the Spaniards a 2-1 lead. From then on, there was no looking back for Nadal, whose court craft and movement caught the eye.
At the post-match conference, Nadal was in a jovial mood. “Now that we have beaten the champions, I hope we can win the title as well,” he said. On playing both the singles and doubles, Nadal said: “I love to play doubles. It is tough to play singles and doubles the whole year but I know doubles improves my game. Maybe, I can play doubles with Roger (Federer) some day. That would be nice!”
For wild card Prakash Amritraj, out of competitive tennis for almost five months, it was a tough job to push the 6 feet 10 inches tall giant Ivo Karlovic. For sheer effort, Prakash scored a lot of points, as he took the giant to a tie-break in the first set. Yet, the final score-line of 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 in Karlovic’s favour made sad news for Indian fans.
Such was the trajectory and boom of Karlovic’s serve that it was impossible for Prakash to even hope of forcing a break. The Indian Davis Cupper, now opting for a single-grip backhand after the left wrist injury, did well in his own service games. But when it came to raising the bar, Prakash flopped, making four unforced errors in the tie-break. It included a double-fault as well.
From there, Karlovic walked away with the match as he had little trouble controlling the pattern of play in the second set.
Results (all 1st round): Singles: Nicolas Mahut bt Alejandro Falla 7-5, 6-4; Stefano Galvani bt Yen-Hsun Lu 6-2, 6-3; Julian Benneteau bt Teimuraz Gabashvili 6-3, 6-4; Kevin Kim bt Simon Greul 1-6, 6-2, 6-3; Ivo Karlovic bt Prakash Amritraj 7-6 (7/3), 6-3; Xavier Malisse bt Danai Udomchoke 6-2, 6-2. Doubles: Tomas Behrend/Robin Vik bt Ashutosh Singh/Vishaal Uppal 6-4, 6-4; Rafael Nadal/Bartolome Salva-Vidal bt Michal Mertinak/Petr Pala 6-1, 6-3.