Madrid – Spain's Rafael Nadal barely escaped with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (11-9) victory Thursday over countryman Fernando Verdasco at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, moving to the quarterfinals after a mistake-filled contest.
The unforced-error bug infected both players during the three-hour, 38-minute match but especially Verdasco, whose numerous mistakes in critical moments cost him his best chance to finally record a victory against the world No. 2.
With Nadal far from his highest level and unable to hit his backhand comfortably after burning his fingers with a hot plate at a restaurant a few days ago, Verdasco jumped out in front in the first set with some big hitting from the baseline.
The set eventually came down to a tiebreaker, in which Nadal rallied from a deficit before sealing victory by a count of 7-5.
The second set featured numerous unforced errors and both players seemed to be lacking in concentration. Verdasco let a 5-3 lead slip away but was able to recover in time to take the set in another tiebreaker.
In the third set, Verdasco went up a service break 3-2 before Nadal broke back immediately, setting up a seemingly inevitable march to yet another tiebreaker.
This time it was Nadal's term to squander a lead, as he allowed Verdasco to crawl back from a 5-1 deficit.
Nadal was never down a match point, but he failed to put the match away on several occasions before finally winning the tiebreaker 11-9 to run his career record against Verdasco to 12-0.
"I'd been away from competition and I haven't trained like I would've wanted," Nadal said afterwards, referring to the break in his schedule after losing in the Wimbledon final in early July.
"I managed to win but I could've easily lost. It went my way and I'm happy."
Nadal also said his early loss in last week's Rogers Cup in Montreal was a blow to his preparation for the U.S. Open, which begins late this month.
"You enjoy always a good match, but when you lose in this way, of course it's not easy, because it could have been a big win," Verdasco said in the post-match press conference.
"You have it so close; tennis is like that. Tennis is very tough. It's a very hard sport, not easy mentally. You need to be strong and not let these situations affect you."
The two also squared off in a closely contested - albeit much higher level - match in the 2009 Australian Open semifinals, which Nadal won in five sets before going on to win the title with another five-set win over Switzerland's Roger Federer.
Next up for Nadal on Friday will be red-hot American Mardy Fish, who continued his outstanding run in the North American summer hard-court season by defeating Frenchman Richard Gasquet Thursday 7-5, 7-5.
The Western and Southern Open is one of nine ATP World Tour 1000 events, which rank just below the four Grand Slams and the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in terms of ranking points and prestige.
It is also a key tune-up event for the U.S. Open, which gets underway on Aug. 29. Nadal is the defending champion of that Grand Slam tournament.