It was almost another dark day at a Grand Slam event for Rafael Nadal. The king of clay was pushed his maximum on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night and barely clawed his way out of the match with a break in the fifth and final set. Now that he has lived to fight another day, Nadal will come up against Israel’s Dudi Sela, whom the Spaniard has never faced previously on the tour.
When the former champion stepped out on court, few anticipated that his American adversary would give him such difficulties. Nadal, however, quickly found himself down 2-1 in sets and was forced to crawl back to level terms. In the final set, the match came down to a first serve, which Smyczek gave back to Rafa in a sign of great sportsmanship, but which also cost him the match 6-2, 3-6, 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-5. The Spaniard withstood 15 aces from Smyczek, hit 42 winners and won 69% of his first service points to salvage his campaign in Melbourne.
“Well, I saw him play some videos. I checked some videos. Well, I think he played well, but is true that what he did at the end of the fifth is just amazing. Congratulate. I say on the court, but I want to say here, too. Very few players can do that after four hours something of match, 5-All, Love-30. So just will say thanks to him because he’s a great example what he did today.”
While not faced with as difficult a task as Rafa, Dudi Sela needed four sets to dispatch Czech No. 2 Lukas Rosol and advance to the third round in Melbourne. Sela withstood 17 aces, won 71% of his first service points and hit 37 winners to earn the victory.
This is the first time that Nadal and Sela cross paths on the professional tour and could make for another surprisingly competitive match, given Nadal’s current form. While I cannot imagine Sela beating Nadal, this does have the makings of a four-set battle.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in Four Sets