Rafael Nadal has motored into the quarter-finals of the Sony Open in Miami. The Spaniard beat Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-2 in the fourth round and will meet Milos Raonic in the last eight. The win will help Nadal in his fight to stay at the top of the ATP rankings as he recovers from a back injury and some surprise losses this season.
It has been an impressive week for Nadal. In his three matches so far, against Hewitt, Istomin and Fognini, he has dropped only nine games. What makes it even more remarkable is that this run of form comes after a three set loss to Dolgopolov in the Indian Wells third round. Nadal lost that match in a third set tiebreaker and looked anything but the world’s no. 1 player.
That loss came on the back of a loss in the Australian Open final against Wawrinka. The Spaniard picked up a back injury in that match and looked far from his usual self on the red clay of Rio in February. Nadal did win the tournament but he struggled, scraping past countryman Pablo Andujar in the semis in a final set tiebreaker, saving match points in the process.
Those losses and close shaves will not be the only factor motivating Nadal to get his game together. There is also the fight to stay at the top of the ATP rankings. Nadal sits at no. 1 with 13100 points with Novak Djokovic behind him with 10900. Nadal lost quite a few points, 940, in not defending his Indian Wells title while Djokovic gained ground in the rankings race by winning the title.
Nadal though has nothing to lose in Miami. He did not compete last year. And if Nadal were to make Miami the stop where he puts and end to his recent slide in form, there would be some celebration in the Nadal camp. Nadal has never won the title there. He has been in the final a few times, losing to Federer in 2005, to Davydenko in 2008, and Novak Djokovic in 2011 but he has never been the better man on finals day, which is rare for Nadal in an ATP 1000 final. The Sony Open is one of the only ATP 1000 titles Nadal has not won, alongside the Paris Indoors in Bercy. So, a victory in Miami would be most welcomed by Nadal who leads the ATP 1000 leaderboard with 26 trophies and would like to see that lead extend in his quest for history.
Historically, Miami would make a big difference to Nadal in more ways than just trophy count. The tournament used to have same status of the “Fifth Slam” now enjoyed by Indian Wells. Legends such as Lendl, Agassi and Courier have been champions since the tournament began in 1985. Pete Sampras won it three times and Roger Federer twice. With Nadal, at 13 slams, in the Greatest ever conversation, a title in Miami would help him in that debate.
Raonic will be an ideal opponent for Nadal as he fights to stay at the top of the ATP rankings and win his first title in Miami. He has beaten the Canadian four times. But Raonic is improving and recently made the semis of Indian Wells, beating Murray on the way. The Canadian also won his 100th hardcourt match in his last round, a stat that will fill him with confidence. If Nadal gets past him, the next round might be problematic if Dolgopolov beats Berdych to make the semis. The Ukrainian has enough variety and a hard to read serve that could trouble Nadal again. Berdych though is more than manageable for Nadal. The Spaniard has beaten him 17 times and lost only three times.
In the final Novak Djokovic is seeded to meet Nadal. The Serbian has a potentially tough test today against Murray, the Scot beating Tsonga for the loss of 5 games. But Tsonga, like Murray, is still on the comeback from injury, and Djokovic, while his form has been patchy the last year, just won in Indian Wells. Up next for the winner of the Djokovic-Murray clash would be Federer or Nishikori.
In Nadal’s fight to stay top of the ATP rankings, he is most likely going to have to get past Djokovic. Djokovic lost in the fourth round of Miami last season and so both men have a lot to gain. And a lot to lose. One thing Nadal will not want to lose is his place in the ATP ranking’s top spot and if his form is anything to go by this tournament, he will not give it up without a fight.
Commentary by Christian Deverille