Even after 858 wins and 15 grand slam titles, Rafa Nadal still suffers from bouts of nervousness and it showed in Saturday’s 6-7(3) 6-3 6-1 6-4 third-round win against Argentine Leonardo Mayer at the U.S Open.
The world number one needed to wait for his 14th opportunity to break his opponent but by that time Mayer had taken the first set by winning the tiebreak.
“Of course, you are under stress when you see that you have opportunities almost in every game, and you are not able to convert them,” said Nadal. “At the beginning you get nerves when you don’t convert opportunities.”
Once he broke to lead 3-2 in the second set, Nadal appeared to be free of his early jitters and took hold of the match.
“When finally I did it, everything changed. I was able to play more freely, to start to attack better with my forehand,” said the Spaniard, who hit only 13 unforced errors in the last three sets, having made 13 in the opening set.
“I had more forehands down the line, hitting some good backhands later. I think the level of tennis after that break have been very positive.”
Nadal, who is chasing a second grand slam title this year after claiming a record-extending 10th French Open title in June, is growing more confident ahead of his clash with Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov.
“I hope that the last three sets can be a good turning point for me because, in my opinion, I played much better today than the two previous days later in the match,” he said.
Dolgopolov has had an impressive run at Flushing Meadows, beating 15th seed Tomas Berdych and Serbia’s Viktor Troicki in previous rounds, but Nadal has a plan.
“I need to play aggressive. I need to feel that when I’m hitting the forehand, he’s not able to take advantage on the point. That’s going to be my goal,” said Nadal.
“You need matches like this. Now I have the opportunity to compete again, to try to do it well.”