Rafa reigns supreme over plucky Bergs

SPANISH superstar Rafael Nadal was forced to fight back from a set down to overcome determined Belgian qualifier Zizou Bergs in the first round of the Rome Masters overnight. The former world number one is a 10-time champion at the event and only lost one of his past 18 opening round matches in the Italian capital, but was made to work for this one, getting up 4-6 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 53 minutes.

Though the cloak of invincibility has slowly worn down from the greatest clay courter of all time, Nadal still poses a threat on his best surface, and the 37-year-old showed that when he recovered to produce some clutch shots when required in the final two sets.

In particular his forehand rating increased massively after the first set, hitting consistent winners and putting putting the 108th ranked Bergs on the back foot. Though Nadal is ranked 305th as it stands, ranking means little for the Spaniard who will retire this year, but hopes to go out with a bang.

Against Bergs, Nadal won 67 and 63 per cent of his first and second serve points off a 62 per cent clip, while saving seven of nine break point opportunities. He was not broken in the last two sets, and won 70.3 per cent of his service points, a marked increase from 55 per cent in the first set.

“It was not my best match. I was practicing better than how I played today without a doubt but I found a way to win,” Nadal said post-match. “That is so important at the beginning of the tournament. My game is more unpredictable than before. I didn’t play much tennis for the past two years, so it is up and down. I think I can do much better than I did today and hope I can do it in the next round.”

Nadal moved to 7-3 for the season this year in just his fourth tournament, but looked fit and firing in what will be his last dance at the Rome Masters.

“It is always emotional to play here,” Nadal said. “One of the most important events in my tennis career. The crowd has always been amazing with me, supporting me since the beginning of my tennis career, so super excited to play one more time here.”

The Spaniard finished with 23 winners and 32 unforced errors, and will need to go to another level against seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz, his second round opponent. Having won this tournament 20 years ago on debut and on average every two years since, Nadal is always a threat on the clay, and will be looking to go out in style.

In other results, it was a fairly strong day for the Italians with Matteo Arnaldi, Fabio Fognini and Luca Nardi among the winners, while Lorenzo Sonego went down. Brit Jack Draper advanced after defeating Borna Coric in straight sets, while a trio of Aussies in Christopher O’Connell, Alexei Popyrin and Rinky Hijikata all bowed out.

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