Ernests to face Nadal in Madrid bullring
Ernests is through to the second round of the Madrid Masters after outlasting Nicolas Kiefer in a match that lasted two hours and 53 minutes.
His valiant efforts earned him a trip to the proverbial bullring against Rafael Nadal, who is playing as the world No. 1 in front of his home crowd for the first time.
In this first-round match, things began poorly for Ernests as he immediately gave Kiefer two break points in his opening service game. Despite successfully saving them, he ultimately dropped the first set when broken while serving at 5*-6.
His inability to reciprocate and threaten Kiefer’s serve for most of the match was due to his struggles on return: he only won 28% of his return points, with the percentage plunging to a shocking 17% in the first set.
Nonetheless, he managed to score three break points when they really mattered: while Kiefer served at 4-4* in the second set. The German saved the first two but succumbed to the third, enabling Ernests to serve out the set, 6-4, in the next game.
Buoyed by the win of the second set, Ernests began to run Kiefer closer in the third set, going to deuce several times on the German’s serve while offering no break point of his own.
A worrying moment came as Ernests took a medical time-out in the middle of the set. He explained after the match that his knee problem surfaced intermittently over the season, but it is still unclear whether that triggered the time-out.
After the match was resumed, the tables were turned when Kiefer handed Ernests two break points as he served at 5-5*. Ernests let slip the first opportunity but made good of the second one, breaking Kiefer to lead by 6*-5.
With victory on his racquet, Ernests finally managed to end a string of damaging losses by serving out the match without drama, 7-5 in the final set.
The clash against Nadal will be highly anticipated, not least because Ernests was the only man other than Roger Federer to win a set off the Spaniard in Wimbledon this year.
It took all of Nadal’s experience and guile to overcome Ernests’s spirited challenge on a day of upsets at the All England Club, which saw Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick eliminated in the second round.
In Madrid, the spectators are expected to be baying for blood as they cheer on one of their own. However, Ernests has shown that he is capable of handling crowd favouritism in the past, such as against Michael Llodra in Roland Garros and Andreas Seppi in Montecatini.
When interviewed, Ernests remained positive yet realistic about his chances. He admitted that Nadal is almost unbeatable on every surface, and that he should try to play his best tennis, knowing that he has nothing to lose against the world No. 1.
“The best place to play against (Nadal) is at Roland Garros,” said Ernests dryly. “That’s a joke, of course.”
Ernests earned 35 ranking points from this first-round win and will gain an additional 40 if he manages to conjure a win against Nadal. That match will be played on Tuesday, at 8pm local time on Centre Court (Pista Central.)
MADRID R1: E Gulbis (LAT) def. N Kiefer (GER) 5-7 6-4 7-5