Stitch by stitch, Rafael Nadal weaves victory against the Reilly Opelka keep (double 6-4, in 1h 32m) and disembarks in his twelfth final of the Rome Masters, in which he aspires to his tenth trophy after completing a fabulous route to the this Sunday’s episode, with Novak Djokovic or Lorenzo Sonego in front. The one from Manacor smiles with all logic, because the afternoon has come out to order. It is his 500th match on clay and the lord of the land has acted as such, rounding out a magnificent task that confirms the ascending line that describes his passage through the Foro Italico. Whatever happens this Sunday, he will land in Paris with his homework well done.
Opelka’s size, 2.11m of pure North American stem, is demonstrated when when entering the track he must bend his neck to avoid hitting the frame of the entrance door. Then he approaches the net and the mesh is almost at the height of his knees, while Nadal, with a very defined plan in his head, always serious, gives the classic little electric boats to warm up. Bullets are coming, so better be prepared. It will be a test of reading, blocking, being patient and having everything very clear. Resist at all costs. Endure the downpour, and when the rival takes a wrong step, enter with everything.
Nadal starts out tense, but who wouldn’t be in a storm of balls at 230 kilometers per hour?
“Shoot, shoot!”, The Spaniard reproaches himself when he is left with a short ball and Opelka herds it with pleasure, the American comfortable in the first moments, in which he resolves his service in a civil and threatening way, because in the second turn of Spanish service already has four break options. However, Nadal manages adversity masterfully and disrupts one after another, defense by defense and hitting deep, the only way out of the mess against an adversary who is interested in the story lasting shortly. Running a lot, and more for a giant like him, automatically means ruin.
For this reason, Opelka proposes a shower of stones. His hitting sounds hollow and the ball rumbles in the Roman center when it hits the metal walls of the funds. One of those strokes starts the shock absorber from Nadal’s racket, which scrutinizes the sand and picks it up, remains firm and does not wrinkle. You can’t, you shouldn’t. His coach, Francis Roig, trusts from the box: “Squeeze, Rafa, squeeze.” And he, applied like no other, follows the strategy to the heart. After those moments of trouble, he perceives a slight gap in the bomber and attacks: he cuts the ball based on cuts and as soon as Opelka loses the site he focuses hard on the angles. Bingo!
In the fifth game, Nadal achieves the break so desired. The Mallorcan knows that the first part of the job is done. Nobody had stolen the serve from the American in the four games towards the semifinals, in a practically immaculate route in which he had only yielded six break options. Much credit, then, that of that scratch. Now, much remains to be done. The champion of 20 majors has it exactly where he had planned it, with some doubts in his head and less and less successful. Opelka, pensive, goes out of tune with the reverse and he, cunning, influences and influences. There is a vein out there.
It upsets him on that side and also looking for him with various setbacks. To the American, who looks like a surfer from Malibu, with a thick beard, thick fur and picturesque print on his shirt, his more than 100 kilos weighs him in the races and he decides to take a couple of sips of taurine to see if it will revive him. But there is no twist, Nadal does not admit any lurch. The Spaniard, fresh in his legs despite the demands of the week, has tied him up emotionally, he is serving as a fable -84% with firsts, only seven points conceded- and he is cornering him until he pierces the wall again and breaks in the third game of the second set.
The final blow to the final.