While all eyes were on him at the start of the clay court season in Monte Carlo, Rafael Nadal appeared to be in high spirits and played as though he had something to prove. With his first match behind him in a breeze, the Spaniard will next come up against American No. 1 John Isner, whom he has faced on four previous occasions. Nadal leads the head-to-head series 4-0, including two clay court wins between 2010-11.
In first clay court match since the Golden Swing in Latin America, the world No. 4 breezed past French wildcard Lucas Pouille, who himself was playing some strong tennis for a player outside the Top 100. Nadal won the match 6-2, 6-1 in a contest that lasted one hour and nine minutes. He converted four break points and maintained a 75% first service rate to close out the match in style.
“Today, I played solidly,” said Nadal. “Today, I played with no mistakes in a row. I played aggressively when I had to play aggressive. I hit some good passing shots than [in] the past couple of months. [It is] a thing that I haven’t been doing very well. “I will go back to the hotel with [a] fantastic feeling, because I played probably the best match of the year for me… I played with the right mentality [and] the right concentration.”
Later in the day, towering American John Isner played to his usual strengths against Viktor Troicki to defeat the Serb in straight sets with a pair of tiebreakers. He hit 16 aces, won 78% of his first service points and saved all seven of the break points he faced on serve to close out the match in one hour and 40 minutes.
While Isner has never been able to earn a win against Nadal, no matter the surface, he did get exceptionally close to producing a remarkable upset in 2011, when he forced Nadal to contest five sets against him in the opening round of that year’s French Open. While that was almost four years ago, it was their most recent clay court meeting, and serves as a reminder that Isner can be a dreadfully difficult obstacle when he is in form. Nadal leads the series 4-0, but will he suffer the first blemish in that record on Thursday?
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in Three Sets