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Rastogi goes down fighting against Nadal

By Deepti Patwardhan in Chennai
January 04, 2007 22:09 IST
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The result was never under question; the manner in which Karan Rastogi would stand up to the challenge of top seed Rafael Nadal was what mattered.

Rastogi, four months younger to Nadal, had said on Tuesday after setting up the clash with the French Open champion that it was about time he raised his game to the next level.

The Mumbai lad showed he was ready as he went down fighting 6-4, 6-1 to Nadal in the second round of the Chennai Open on Thursday.

The difference was apparent when the two stepped onto the court.

Rastogi, wearing regular Nike apparel, came out nervously trying to block out the noise that reverberated in the stadium.

Nadal, with his stylish custom-made fluorescent yellow t-shirt and olive green capris, came out waving to the crowd, and was jumping and zipping on court before starting his warm-up.

At 20, Rastogi is ranked number 497 in the world, his biggest claim to fame is a semi-final appearance at the Junior Australian Open.

Also at 20, Nadal has already won two French Open championships and is ranked number two in the world.

In the biggest match of his career so far, Rastogi stepped up his game and did not let the Spaniard run him over. He was at the receiving end of Nadal's heavy ground strokes, but the Indian showed a lot of gumption to match the pace and kept the ball in play. He dropped just one point in his first service game and a fist pump signalled that Rastogi was ready for the battle.

He ran hard, returned almost everything Nadal threw at him, hit the ball deep and gave just as much as he could in the first set.

"In the first set I just wanted to prove to myself that I am good enough to play at this level," said Rastogi.

"I think I played better than I expected; I mean when I went on to the court I was just hoping not to be kicked badly. But I served well, had only one double fault, that too towards the end (in the last game). I was happy with my ground strokes; I think I matched him there."

Nadal believes in grinding his opponents out; you either give up or burn out. After making sure that he at least won his service games till 4-4, Rastogi seemed to run out of gas. Drop shots, volleys, cross courts, whatever he tried, Nadal returned; even when it looked like the Indian had the point in his pocket with a winner, there he was, a bright yellow blaze knocking the ball down.

In the 10th game of the first set, Rastogi smacked a forehand down the line believing he had the winner, but Nadal stepped in, chipped the ball with heavy top spin, on which the Indian could just about touch the racquet.

After a while, Rastogi knew he was simply knocking at a wall that kept bouncing the ball in.

"I was expecting it to happen but after a while when you just see the ball coming back again, it was a little disheartening," he said.

Nadal served out the set 6-4, and punctuated the hard-earned success with his trademark fist pumps. From there on, he tightened the noose. Rastogi tried to cut the points short by approaching the net, and though he looks a lot more comfortable now with the volleys, he missed a couple of easy ones and the ploy fell short in the face of Nadal's speed.

Rastogi saved a break-point in the opening game of the second set but could not hold on to his serve after that as he lost the set 6-1 in 38 minutes.

His second serve was easily taken apart by Nadal as it just sat up in mid-court.

Rastogi, winning 79 per cent of his points on second serve, managed only 33 per cent in the second set. He finally caved in, with Nadal getting stronger by every point, but walked out of the court with his head held high.

"It was a nice match for him," said Nadal after the game. "He was playing with zero pressure; he has a very good backhand and is fast on court. He needs more matches at this level to improve."

The Spaniard though wasn't very happy with his form and said he needs to make lesser mistakes in the coming season to stay on top of his game.

Earlier, Stefan Koubek of Austria knocked out former champion and seventh seed Paradorn Srichaphan to enter the quarter-finals. He needed only 48 minutes to oust the struggling Thai, winning the second round match 6-1, 6-2.

Also progressing to the quarter-finals were Fabrice Santoro of France and Italy's Davide Sanguinetti.

Santoro, who pulled out of the doubles on Wednesday, beat Germany's Bjorn Phau 6-4, 6-2 while Sanguinetti upset the eighth seed Nicholas Mahut 7-6, (6), 3-6, 6-3.

The Italian will face top seed Rafael Nadal while Santoro will take on Xavier Malisse.

France's Julien Benneateau beat Igor Andreev 7-6, 6-2 later in the day to take the final quarter-final berth.

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Deepti Patwardhan in Chennai

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