Rafa Nadal emulates Novak Djokovic feat with epic winning streak

Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, pictured here on the tennis court.
Rafa Nadal has joined Novak Djokovic as the only men in the ATP era to start a season 18-0. Image: Getty

Rafa Nadal has become the second man in tennis history to start a season 18-0 after moving into the Indian Wells quarter-finals.

Nadal battled past big-hitting American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (3) 7-6 (5) on Wednesday to extend his undefeated streak in 2022 to 18 matches.

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The 35-year-old Spaniard, who has already won three titles in 2022 including a men's record 21st major at the Australian Open, stayed on track for a fourth title in the California desert.

Nadal became just the second player since the ATP Tour began in 1990 to begin a season 18-0.

Only Novak Djokovic has gone better, with the Serb starting 26-0 in 2020 and 41-0 to open 2011.

Roger Federer's best mark is 17-0 in 2018, while Djokovic also went 17-0 to start 2013, as did Pete Sampras in 1997.

Nadal had all he could handle from the 6-foot-11 Opelka on Wednesday, including a raft of serves that topped the 225km/h mark and had Nadal's back against the wall — literally.

"I manage it so-so," he said of Opelka's serve, which the Spaniard stood as far back in the court as possible to receive.

"I don't know if the cameras can follow me like 10 meters behind the baseline.

"It's difficult because it's not only about the speed. It's difficult to read his serve because the serve is coming sometimes with topspin, sometimes slice.

"At the same time it's not enough just to put the ball in because then he has a huge forehand.

"So it's a great victory for me against one of the toughest opponents that I can play."

Rafa Nadal sets up clash with Nick Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios will be the next opponent to attempt to end Nadal's unbeaten start when they clash in a highly-anticipated quarter-final showdown.

"He is playing great," Nadal said of Kyrgios in his on-court interview.

"He is one of the toughest opponents on tour. Everyone knows how good he is when he is motivated, so probab;y tomorrow he will be.

"It is going to be a good test for me and good challenge.

"I am excited to be in the quarter-finals, and in the quarter-finals you can't expect an easy opponent."

Nadal holds a 5-3 career record over Kyrgios - who has reached the last eight of an ATP Tour event for the first time since his title success in Washington three years ago.

Rafael Nadal, pictured here after his win over Reilly Opelka in the fourth round at Indian Wells.
Rafael Nadal celebrates after his win over Reilly Opelka in the fourth round at Indian Wells. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Kyrgios famously beat Nadal in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2016, kicking off a spicy rivalry between the two that has at times turned nasty.

Nadal rallied from a 2-4 deficit in the second set on Wednesday before he closed out the match by pulling Opelka out of the court and forcing the American's backhand to land wide.

Nadal improved to 19-0 against American opponents since losing to John Isner at the 2017 Laver Cup.

“I am just very happy to be playing tennis,” said 35-year-old Nadal, who has been battling a nagging foot injury.

“Today was a little bit worse than other days. It’s true that the last couple of days the foot has been bothering me a little bit more.”

Kyrgios earlier advanced to the quarter-finals when Italian opponent Jannik Sinner withdrew with illness.

with agencies

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