Just a couple of days after winning his third Masters 1000 title in Montreal, Rafael Nadal was back on the court in Cincinnati. With no luck in the draw, the Spaniard faced the young Czech Tomas Berdych who fended off four match points in a 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 triumph in just under three hours.
Delivering better numbers behind the first serve, Tomas repelled ten out of 12 break chances with brave and aggressive tennis, prevailing in the decisive moments to stun world no. 2. The Czech had more than 50 winners and unforced errors, keeping the points on his racquet and passing all the obstacles to make a winning start and send Nadal packing.
Wasting his opportunities, Rafa dropped serve four times from six opportunities offered to Tomas, losing ground in those thrilling moments to suffer the first loss after 16 straight victories. Nadal drew first blood in the ninth game when he broke at love, serving for the set in the next game.
Staying composed, Berdych saved a set point and pulled the break back to level the score at 5-5. Starting all over, Nadal won the tie break 7-4 with a service winner, moving closer to the finish line and his 17th consecutive triumph.
From 40-0 in the fifth game of the second set, Rafa got broken after a lucky net cord from Tomas, getting broken again at 4-2 and allowing the Czech to seal the set with a hold at love a few minutes later. Struggling with left leg issues, Rafa tried to make a fresh start in the decider, serving well and creating five break chances at 4-3.
One of those would have pushed him closer to the finish line but Tomas wasn't to be denied, erasing them all to bring the game home and remain in contention. Berdych grabbed a break in the next game, serving for the victory at 5-4 and getting broken to keep the Spaniard alive.
In the 12th game, Berdych overpowered those three match points with some brave hitting, entering the tie break and winning it 7-3 to advance into the second round. "I wasn't lucky with the draw.
I said that already in Montreal because Tomas Berdych is a great player.
The conditions were different, I didn't have enough energy and Tomas played on a high level, that's why I lost today.
I had three match points but couldn't do much on any of those, despite giving my best. The same thing happened to Roger Federer a year ago against Dominik Hrbaty. Tomas and I have played junior matches, he is a year older than me.
I was trying to extend the rallies but without the energy to play more aggressive tennis and attack. I was probably a bit mentally tired as well. I didn't play too many tournaments; it's just that I won Montreal, competing in seven matches within a week.
I have already advanced to ten finals this year; there were many matches but not too many tournaments. I will go home to Mallorca tomorrow to practice on hard court before heading to New York. I don't like losing, especially after those three match points, but I have to find positive notes and bounce back at the US Open," said Rafael Nadal.