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A steady if unspectacular performance from Rafael Nadal saw him through to the quarterfinals in Doha as he defeated Denis Gremelmayr, 6-2, 6-2.
Gremelmayr, a 30-year-old journeyman with one ATP semifinal to his credit, was outclassed from the start. According to the ATP, Nadal is 58-5 against fellow left-handed players in his career; more subjectively, we know he almost never loses to players whom he should easily beat. But he began with some unusual errors, particularly on the forehand up the line, allowing Gremelmayr to escape from 0-40 down in his first service game. But a delicate defensive lob and an excellent forehand pass gave Nadal another chance to break, and he took a 2-1 lead as Gremelmayr dumped a drop shot in the net. Gremelmayr’s next service game took almost 12 minutes, yet ended in the same way, with Nadal breaking as the call to prayer sounded in the background. To Gremelmayr, having hit 37 serves to Nadal’s nine and still finding himself a double break down, it must have sounded like last rites.
Nadal’s confidence and feel on the ball visibly grew throughout the match. He spoke afterwards about not having been able to practice as much as he would have liked in the off-season, and in the second set in particular, he seemed to improve with every rally to the point where he could comfortably muscle the German around and then off the court. While he only served one ace as opposed to yesterday’s more spectacular numbers, his serve was both consistent and effective, and he played through the Doha wind as if it wasn’t there. If not quite clinical—he converted only four out of 15 break points—it was a solid and relatively efficient performance, leading 4-0 in the second set before Gremelmayr managed to hold serve.
In the end, Gremelmayr did well to take three more games from Nadal than he did in their only previous meeting. He also hit some genuinely impressive shots, with a fantastic cross-court forehand pass for 0-3, 30-40 particularly noteworthy, and he stretched Nadal to the limit on match point—an exchange of court speed and sharply-angled volleys, ending only when Gremelmayr attempted to go back behind Nadal and poked the ball wide, which saw the top seed pull off his headband and jog to the net with a wide and unforced smile on his face.
A decent work-out rather than a competitive match or spectacular performance, Nadal’s improvement—both from yesterday and throughout the match—should stand him in good stead for tomorrow’s quarter-final against Mikhail Youzhny.