Nadal is back in Cincinnati for the first time since 2013. Chardy looks to continue a strong run of play that saw him make his first Masters level semifinal last week in Montreal at the Rogers Cup.
(8) Rafael Nadal vs. Jeremy Chardy
This is a key week for Nadal as his last preparations for the U.S. Open begin today at the Western & Southern Open. Nadal looked as if he was headed in the right direction in Montreal last week before he ran into Kei Nishikori. Nishikori whipped Nadal 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Nadal’s second serve failed him miserably as Nishikori won 62 percent of the points off the lefty’s second serve. It also ended a seven match losing streak for Nishikori to Nadal. The same problems that have plagued Nadal for most of 2015 seemed to crop up in that match. Even the great Pete Sampras has chimed in recently on Nadal’s struggles saying “It just seems like anxiety is creeping in, he seems a little bit nervous, he’s hitting a lot of short balls.”
That leaves Nadal again looking to stay positive and rebuild confidence this week in the Queen City. He did not play Cincy last year due to a wrist injury. Prior to that, Rafa had a string of five straight visits to this tournament with at least a quarterfinal run. He started the season well on outdoor hard courts with quarterfinal runs at both the Australian Open and Indian Wells. Since then, he has fallen on harder times. In Miami, he lost in the third round to Fernando Verdasco in three sets. The same Verdasco lost his first 15 meetings against Nadal before scoring two straight wins over Rafa, including the Miami win. Since then, Nadal returned to some normalcy by beating Verdasco earlier this Summer in Hamburg on clay.
Nadal would do well to make the quarters this week to gain some confidence. It would also give everyone a shot to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal lace it up against each other for the first time since the 2014 Australian Open. Federer is just one step away after beating Roberto Bautista-Agut in the second round on Tuesday. Nadal needs a win today and then will face either Feliciano Lopez or Andreas Seppi for a trip to the quarterfinals. It’s definitely possible for Rafa to get there, but he will need to recapture that confidence that drove him through two rounds last week.
Chardy has a match under his belt already this week. He beat Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-2 on Tuesday in the first round. Chardy did get a visit from the trainer during the match, but showed no lingering issues. It still will bear watching early to see if Chardy has any sort of ill effects from his longer than expected run in Montreal last week. This will be their second career meeting. Nadal won the only head-to-head meeting against Chardy back in 2013 on clay at Vina del Mar in straight sets.
The Frenchman is in his best form since a surprise run to the Australian Open quarterfinals back in 2013. He was the beneficiary of Richard Gasquet pulling out of the Rogers Cup last week due to illness. That left Chardy up against Nicholas Mahut who he had beaten twice in their careers instead of Gasquet who had beaten Chardy both times the two had met. After that. Chardy took the opportunity and ran. He was strong on serve and won tight matches against big servers Ivo Karlovic and John Isner before losing to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals 6-4, 6-4.
That will be a big part of the challenge today, the Chardy serve. Chardy was stout to open his Cincinnati campaign against Ram yesterday. He won 78 percent of his service points. He was not broken on three break opportunities. Rafa has been decent this year converting 43 percent of the break chances he has seen, while Chardy is saving 64 percent of his break points given this year. Chardy has not been perfect on serve throughout his recent run. He was broken nine times in five matches last week in Montreal. Nadal should be able to craft opportunities to break as long as he can get on Chardy’s serve and establish that into rallies.
Conversely, Nadal will need to be on point with his shaky serve as Chardy has converted right around 40 percent of the break chances that he has seen this season. Nadal had one match last week where he was not broken against Mikhail Youzhny, but had his serve broken six times in his other two matches combined against Sergiy Stakhovsky and Kei NIshikori. For Nadal, the recipe is usually simple. Get first serves in and he has a chance to have a good service match. The more second serves his opponents see, the worse off Rafa usually has it.
The conditions in Cincinnati are apparently playing a bit slower than in the past, which should be good news for Nadal. Any bite that can be taken off of Chardy’s serve will be an advantage for him. There has been some spotty rain today as well, which will only further help keep the conditions from being at their fastest.
Nadal wins in three sets