Rafael Nadal neutralizes Reilly Opelka to extend perfect start to 2022

Rafael Nadal beat American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/5) on Wednesday to push his 2022 record to 18-0 and reach the Indian Wells WTA quarter-finals and Master ATP. The 35-year-old Spaniard, who won a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January and lifted the trophy in Acapulco last month, remained on course for a fourth title in the desert Californian.

But he had everything he could handle from the 2.11m tall American, including a series of serves that went over the 140mph mark and had Nadal’s back against the wall – literally.

“I manage it somehow,” he said of Opelka’s serve, which the Spaniard stood as far up the pitch as possible to receive. “I don’t know if the cameras can follow me 10 yards behind the baseline.”

Opelka saved the only break point in a tense first set. A patient Nadal worked the rallies in the tiebreaker and after taking a 4-3 lead, Opelka made three consecutive errors to give up the set.

Unresponsive to his own serve in the first set, Nadal gave Opelka a break chance with a double fault in the fifth game of the second and the American pounced on it.

Unable to take advantage of a break point in the next game, Nadal saved three more break points in game seven before coming back to tie it at 4-4.

Nadal took the lead in the second-set tiebreaker, and after Opelka saved two match points with thunderous serves, the Spaniard finished with a winner.

Nadal became just the second player to start an 18-0 season since the ATP Tour launched in 1990. Novak Djokovic has done so twice, starting 41-0 in 2011 and 26-0 in 2020.

The Spaniard will face Australian Nick Kyrgios, who advanced on a walk when Jannik Sinner withdrew due to illness on Thursday.

Nadal was followed in the quarter-finals by his compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, 18, who scored another breakthrough with a 7-5, 6-1 win over 35-year-old Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Alcaraz, in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final, is Indian Wells’ youngest ATP quarter-finalist since 17-year-old Michael Chang in 1989.

Alcaraz, title winners in Rio de Janeiro last month, gradually turned up the pressure with powerful ground play, converting their third break chance in the opening set with a forehand winner.

He didn’t face a break point in the game and took the lead early in the second set with a deft drop shot that caught Monfils flat behind the baseline.

Monfils, who won a title in Adelaide in January, had upset world number one Daniil Medvedev in the third round but his tournament ended in a whimper as he was broken for the fourth time of the night in the final match.

Should they both advance, Alcaraz would meet his idol, Nadal, in the semi-finals.

“It would be amazing, but I have to win the quarter-finals first,” said Alcaraz, who will next face defending champion Cameron Norrie.

Norrie canceled a second-set rally offer from rising American talent Jenson Brooksby, who took a 3-0 lead in the second set only for Norrie to come back to win 6-2, 6-4.

– Berrettini bounced back –
In other matches, Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, 61st, upset sixth-placed Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 to book a quarter-final clash with American Taylor Fritz, who beat the Australian Alex de Minaur. 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/5).

Kecmanovic, 22, equaled the biggest victory of his career by reaching the last eight of a Masters-level event for the second time.

Seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev, chasing a third title of the year, won by beating Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 to take on Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov – a 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) winner from American John Isner.

On the women’s side, former world number one Simona Halep and third seed Ita Swiatek booked a semi-final showdown with a pair of lopsided wins.

Promoted

Romania’s Halep, a two-time Grand Slam champion and winner at Indian Wells in 2015, needed just 53 minutes to defeat Croatia’s Petra Martic 6-1, 6-1.

Poland’s Swiatek beat American Madison Keys 6-1, 6-0 in 56 minutes. It was a welcome chance at pace for Swiatek, who had to pull himself together after a set in each of his first three games.

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