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Rafael Nadal beats Zizou Bergs in Italian Open after battling back from a set down in first-round clash


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Rafael Nadal was forced to do it the hard way in his Italian Open first-round match against Zizou Bergs, battling back from a set down to win 4-6 6-3 6-4.

With the 22-time Grand Slam champion still making his tentative first steps back in tennis after missing most of 2023 to a devastating hip injury, the 37-year-old looked rusty when dropping the opening set.

Having earned an early break, Nadal was immediately broken back and went on to lose five of the last six games in the first set to the impressive Bergs – the Belgian converting a set point with an emphatic forehand smash.

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Zizou Bergs wins the first set against Rafael Nadal with a superb showboat shot

The second set was briefly disrupted as a spectator was taken ill in the Rome heat midway through the opening game and it appeared to disturb Bergs’ rhythm when the match resumed, Nadal immediately breaking the 24-year-old.

Racing into a 3-0 lead, Nadal hit more winners in the opening three games of the second set than he had in the entire opener.

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Zizou Bergs snatches a point against Rafael Nadal with a super reaction volley

That’s not to say that Nadal was having things all his own way on court, with Bergs carving out break point opportunities in two of his last three service games and taking his decorated opponent to deuce in the other before the Spaniard finally served things out to level the match, prompting a huge roar in celebration.

Bergs too was animated after winning the opening game of the deciding third set, cupping his ear to the crowd, but Nadal, now well into his stride, would break him in his next service game.

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Rafael Nadal slips mid-point, rolls, gets back up and goes on to win the point against Zizou Bergs!

Far from breezing his way to victory from then on, Nadal suddenly found himself facing three break points when down 0-40 in the sixth game. However, he summoned all of his trademark grit and gumption, tied to his skill, to save all three of them, ultimately closing things out to book his spot in the second round where he’ll face Polish seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz.

Nadal: I was not at my best, but found a way

“Of course that was not my best match,” Nadal said after his win. “I was practising better than how I played today, without a doubt.

“But I found a way to win, and that’s so important at the beginning of the tournament for me.

“My game is more unpredictable than before. I didn’t play much tennis for the last two years, so I have ups and downs.

“But I think I can do it much better than today, and I hope to do it in the next round.”

What’s coming up on Sky Sports Tennis?

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  • Geneva Open (ATP 250) – May 20-26
  • Lyon Open (ATP 250) – May 20-26
  • Internationaux de Strasbourg (WTA 500 with Emma Raducanu in action) – May 20-26
  • Morocco Open (WTA 250) – May 20-26

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