Defending champion Rafael Nadal successfully began his campaign for a fourth title in Madrid on Wednesday afternoon, and will next face top Finish player Jarkko Nieminen in the third round of the tournament. Of their seven previous meetings, Nieminen has never gotten close to defeating the top ranked Spaniard, and it is unlikely he will succeed this time around.
While the first game may have lasted 10 minutes, the top seed zoomed through the remainder of the match, dropping just one game in the two sets, en route to the second round in Madrid. Nadal converted 6/10 break points in the 69-minute victory, during which he served at 79 per cent.
“I think I moved better and played well, better than I normally play on the clay,” said Nadal. “I was dominating over the points and playing very well. I think I’ve done positive things.”
Nadal holds 12900 points and was in a position where he needed to defend 1860 points against Djokovic, who currently holds 11040 points, to secure his ranking. He will have that pressure alleviated this week, as Djokovic revealed that he was forced to withdraw from Madrid with a right arm injury.
Niminen reached the third round of the event after picking up a 6-3, 6-2 win over Igor Sijsling. This marks the world No. 57’s best career performance in Madrid, as he had never reached the third round previously, and held a 2-5 record at the event before the start of the week. Now he will have to face the biggest challenge of his season to date on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s obviously the biggest challenge you can get – playing the World No. 1 and best player ever on clay,” said Nieminen. “I’ve played [Nadal] many times. It’s nothing new. It’s another new great challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
This marks the eighth time these two competitors will cross paths on the professional tour, with Nadal holding an impenetrable 7-0 record against the Finish No. 1. Five of those wins have taken place on clay, including the last three consecutive victories. Nieminen has never taken a set off Nadal and it is unlikely he will manage that feat on Thursday.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in Straight Sets