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Europe lead: Nadal rises to the occasion

Rafael Nadal is pumped for singles and doubles on Saturday night

Rafael Nadal extended Team Europe’s lead over Team World to four points with a hard-fought win over Milos Raonic in Saturday’s evening session at the Laver Cup.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion had to fend off a host of break points before wrestling control of the contest for a 6-3 7-6(1) win in Geneva.

Europe now leads 7-3 overall, with Nadal set to team up with Stefanos Tsitsipas against Jack Sock and Nick Kyrgios in the doubles.

A total of 13 points is required for victory on Sunday, when each match will be worth three points to the winner.

Raonic has suffered an injury-interrupted season and missed the recent US Open, where Nadal clained his 19thmajor title.

I feel very luck in the first set – Rafael Nadal

It was the Canadian who made the early running at Palexpo, however, racking up eight break points in Nadal’s opening three service games but failing to convert.

The Spaniard was more clinical, moving ahead in game seven and breaking again to seal the set in game nine.

There was little to separate the pair in the second set, Raonic finally converting a break point at the ninth attempt only for Nadal to hit straight back in the next game.

Nadal made sure he avoided the potential danger of a 10-point shootout as he raced into a 6-0 lead in the tiebreaker, earning match point with a spectacular forehand pass and closing it out with another winner off his favored wing.

“I feel very luck in the first set,” said Nadal.

“An unlucky set for him, I think he deserved it for sure.

“Later in the match I started to play better with a higher percentage on the serve and start moving myself a little bit better.

“I think in the end I played a very good tiebreak with some good shots, so very happy to help Team Europe be 7-3 – it’s great news for us.”

Game Insight Group analysis

  • The 6-3 scoreline of the first set did not convey how grueling a set it was. In the sixth game alone, Nadal performed 300kJ of total work and Raonic 316kJ; that level of work is half the work of a typical set for the average tour player 
  • In the first set, Nadal and Raonic were almost equal in the physical intensity they brought to each shot, Nadal with an average of 6.4 per shot and Raonic an average of 6.6. Although Raonic is considered the bigger hitter of the two, Nadal was ahead of Raonic in terms of hitting load in the first set, Nadal with a load of 219 and Raonic 213, which shows that Nadal closed the power gap by crushing his groundstrokes
  • By the second set, the physical battle ramped up even more. The work rate was up for both players, Nadal up to 8.9kJ per shot on average and Raonic an even higher 10.0kJ per shot. Raonic also stepped up his power game, reaching a load of 234 compared to 209 for Nadal
  • By the time Raonic and Nadal got to the second set tiebreak, they had both performed more work in a single match than any other player so far at the 2019 Laver Cup. By the last point, Nadal was 2787kJ total work and Raonic was at 3036kJ. This was exactly the kind of slog that Raonic wanted to avoid and what makes going toe-to-toe with Nadal so difficult. 

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