10:00 PM GMT May 16, 2021
It wasn’t easy for Rafael Nadal on Wednesday evening against Jannik Sinner at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. But the Spaniard gave plenty of credit to the 19-year-old for making the match difficult at the Foro Italico.
“I think Jannik is a very complete player. He's still improving all the time. You can't appreciate the improvement in one day,” Nadal said. “To see the improvements of players, you need to follow them [for many] tournaments in a row. You follow him and you see that his level is higher and higher all the time.”
Nadal was down a break on three separate occasions in the match. But the Spaniard avoided a deciding set and advanced to a third-round showdown against Denis Shapovalov.
“[It was] a positive match for me. I think I did a lot of things well. I played a solid match,” Nadal said. “[I am] happy in [that there were] a lot of positive things against a very tough player like Jannik. Very pleased with the victory.”
The teen, who is the youngest player in the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings at World No. 18, held up well in rallies against the legendary lefty. Sinner played aggressively, and he was not overwhelmed by the Spaniard’s power and physicality.
“He has a great backhand and a great forehand, too. I think I tried to… hold [the baseline] well, not going back too far from the court,” Nadal said. “If [you do that], you are dead. I think I held well the position on court.
“I hit some very good forehands, cross-courts too to avoid his great backhand cross, and then he has a great change down the line. I think I did that well.”
Nadal now leads their ATP Head2Head series 2-0 after defeating Sinner in last year’s Roland Garros quarter-finals. They also practised together during this year’s Australian quarantine. The nine-time Rome champion knew he would have his hands full with the Italian.
“It’s not a surprise for me. I know how good he is and the shots he has. He has great shots when he's running. He has always great comebacks from tough positions,” Nadal said. “I was on court with big respect for him and very focussed every single moment. That's why I am here with a victory.”