Djokovic survives Almagro, Nadal sets up Kyrgios clash

 

By Ros Satar, in Madrid

  • Novak Djokovic [2] def. Nicolas Almagro [WC] 6-1 4-6 7-5
  • Rafael Nadal [4] def. Fabio Fognini 7-6(3) 3-6 6-4
MADRID, SPAIN – World No. 2 Novak Djokovic started his title defence scratchily but survived a three set scare to book his place in the third round, with Rafael Nadal also scrabbling into the next round.

 

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Novak Djokovic [2] def. Nicolas Almagro [WC] 6-1 4-6 7-5

There is no doubt that the topic of conversation this week for Novak Djokovic will be his progression flying solo after parting ways with his long-term coaching team.

Now travelling with his brother Marko, and Pepe Imaz for maybe more holistic advice’ Djokovic started as though he had forgotten to even tennis. Shanks and double faults littered his opening service game – Nicolas Almagro did not have to do much as Djokovic broke himself to gift the first game to the Spanish wildcard.

He hit the reset button reeling off six games on the bounce against Almagro, who has struggled with injury and had time off after the birth of his first child. It looked as though the time away from the court had left the Spaniard match-shy until April this year.

However, once a Top 10 player, he showed why, as he put up more of a competitive fight in the second set, with chances for both to break not converted. Almagro got his breakthrough in the end to take things into a decider, and kept that momentum firmly onside as he built up a swift 3-0 lead.

However, champions will do as they do, with Djokovic inching his way back into the match, getting back the break. From there it was nip and tick as Almagro had lifted his level quite impressively, but Djokovic is nothing if not (more) consistent, breaking for his chance to serve out the match, and needing just a single match point to get the job done.

Novak Djokovic – ATP Mutua Madrid Open 2017 (c) Christopher Johnson for Britwatch Sports

There was obvious relief on his part to getting the job done, both on court and then in his post-match press conference. Where once Djokovic was almost boisterously intense, there seems to be a more contemplative feel to his answers, maybe a real reflection on the changes going on around him and his team.

He said: “This was the fourth match on the clay court season for me this year, and all of them went 7-5 or 6-4 in the third set. Every match more or less that I’ve played was quite close, dramatic as well. I guess I’m supposed to be tested in every match on clay. From positive side, from that perspective, is good for psychological aspects and mental strength and getting confidence back. Obviously when you’re not winning too many matches, you have to build the confidence level. So to win the matches like this definitely helps confidence.”

Of course the questions still swirl regarding the vacation position of a head coach. Back in the UK there has been what can best be described as a speculative exclusive putting Andre Agassi’s name in the frame. Just as he was in his on-court interview, Djokovic remained suitably coy about the next steps.

“I understand that people are trying to speculate and trying to look into the possible coaches and create a list because I was saying I would like to have ideally someone who fits into the profile of a person that was kind of in my shoes before, that has been winning Grand Slams. There are not too many of those kind of champions in the history of the sport.

“I guess it’s normal that people start coming up with names. I can’t talk more than that. I’m going to think about who I want in my team. Right now I don’t have yet anyone. But I think by French Open or after French Open, I already going to have someone.”

 

Who and when Novak Djokovic playing next?

Who is Djokovic playing next? Feliciano Lopez (ESP)
Head to Head? Djokovic leads 8-1
What time is Djokovic playing & where? Djokovic & Lopez are secheduled on Court Manolo Santana, not before 2pm (1pm BST)
Where/How to watch Djokovic’s match? Sky Sports 5 | Tennis on UK TV

 

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Rafael Nadal [4] def. Fabio Fognini 7-6(3) 3-6 6-4

Rafael Nadal – ATP Mutua Madrid Open 2017 (c) Christopher Johnson for Britwatch Sports

It was an equally tough battle for Rafael Nadal to overcome the tricky play of Fabio Fognini, taking almost three hours to put away the languid Italian. For much of the first set Fognini seemed to be the aggressor, taking an early lead in the first set before relinquishing it, and breaking straight back for the advantage before Nadal levelled once more on the way to taking the first set to a tie-break.

Despite breaking Nadal at the start of the tie-break it switfly became one way traffic for the Spainiard, who looked to be back in control, but the second set saw Fognini hold on to a break advantage to force a decider. Expectations were high that Nadl would prevail and sure enough, he broke for a 4-2 lead, but Fognini can still produce some of his best tennis when it matters, pegging Nadal back to get things on serve. Nadal, roared on by a home crowd and with one eye on the football (Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid – a big thing in these parts) closed in for the kill breaking for the third round spot.

He knew though, this was not a vintage performance, and with Nick Kyrgios next who has claimed some heavy scalps here (Roger Federer, Stan Warwinka) and Nadal will need to be a lot sharper, ear infection (otitis) allowing.

He  said, in his post match press conference: “He’s an opponent that’s going to put a lot of pressure on me. He has a very good serve. He’s very aggressive. I have to try to be very solid with my serve, too. I’m going to try to play at a high rhythm.”

 

Who and when is Nadal playing next?

Who is Nadal playing? Nick Kygrios [16] (AUS)
Head to Head? 1-1
What time is Nadal playing & where? Nadal & Kyrgios are scheduled on Court Manolo Santana, not before 8pm (7pm BST).
Where/How to watch Nadal’s match? Sky Sports 1 | Tennis on UK TV

 

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Featured Image Credit: Christopher Johnson for Britwatch Sports

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