Nadal, Sharapova show their true grit
By Peter Santo
Two of tennis’ biggest superstars both received major scares in the second round of the Australian Open last night. With men’s number 3 seed Rafael Nadal and women’s number 2 seed Maria Sharapova both pulling out narrow comeback victories.
Sharapova looked on her way to an easy victory after winning the first set 6-1 over Alexandra Panova of Russia. However Maria began to stumble in the second set, making a slew of unforced errors and dropping the set 6-4.
Things got even worse for Sharapova as the final set began, she continued to make numerous unforced errors off both wings and Panova quickly raced out to a 4-1 lead. However Panova, who has never beaten a top 30 player and is currently ranked 150 in the world, began to tighten up at 4-1.
Sharapova quickly righted the ship for a short while and got one of the breaks back to make it 4-3. However Panova maintained her break lead. In the following game Panova showcased the style of play that got her to this point in the match, hitting huge groundstrokes off both wings and controlling the points from the start. She was beating Sharapova at her own game and held for 5-3.
With her back against the wall, Sharapova began to show the grit and competitiveness that makes her a champion. Sharapova blasted huge serves and groundstrokes, this time making more than she missed, and comfortably held for 5-4.
Panova still had the opportunity to serve for the match at 5-4 and eventually held two match points. Standing just a point from exiting the tournament, Sharapova blasted two returns right past her helpless opponent and leveled the match at 5-5.
Sharapova’s comeback quickly took the wind out of her opponent’s sails, as she quickly rattled off two straight games to advance to the third round 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.
Rafael Nadal has not been in this position very often, he is used to cruising his way through the opening rounds of grand slams and improving as the tournament goes along.
So Nadal was in unfamiliar territory when American Tim Smyczek held a two sets to one lead in their second round match last night. However when the going gets tough, that’s when Nadal flexes his muscles the most.
He clawed and fought his way back into the match, showing the grit and determination that makes him one of the greatest players not only of this generation but of all time.
When it was all set and done, Nadal had advanced to the third round, however that did not stop him from delivering high praise to his opponent in his post match interview.
“That was the hardest match I have ever played,” said Nadal. That is some worthy praise for a player who has struggled to find his way since turning pro. Coming from a champion like Nadal, who has played in so many long, grueling, difficult matches (most remember the 2008 wimbledon final, 2009 Australian Open semifinal and final as well as the 2013 Australian Open final as some of his toughest matches).
One thing’s for sure, both players are very grateful to be through to the third round, and time will tell if these tests benefit them later on in the tournament.
Photos Courtesy of AustralianOpen.com