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PARIS (AP) — Decoding Rafael Nadal’s self-evaluations can be a tricky proposition.
Listen, for example, to the way the top-seeded Nadal spoke about his game and his mindset after handling 37th-ranked Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 Monday to reach the quarterfinals at the French Open, improve his record there to 42-1 and get closer to tying Bjorn Borg’s record of six championships in Paris.
Nadal chastised himself for being “too anxious.” He said he needs to “hit the ball with a little bit more conviction.” Looking at the big picture, Nadal insisted: “The thing is, you have to be (a) realist, and today, I’m not playing well enough to win this tournament.”
Maybe he’s playing possum. Maybe he’s being sincere. Or maybe — as explained by Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach — this is just the way his nephew is.
“All his life, Rafael never had big, big confidence,” Toni said Monday.
“He’s not a guy who thinks, ‘Oh, I am so good.’ Never. He tries to improve, he tries to play better, every day.”
Toni’s nephew has done precisely that at Roland Garros. Since falling behind two-sets-to-one against John Isner in the first round last week, he’s won 11 consecutive sets. He made half as many unforced errors as 2006 French Open semifinalist Ljubicic, 48-24. He accumulated 20 break points, converting six.
After trailing 4-5, 30-all — “I felt like he felt the pressure,” said Ljubicic, who was two points from taking the first set there — Nadal steeled himself and won 30 of the next 32 points on his serve.
“For moments, I am playing well. But for moments, I am still having (a) few mistakes in a row,” Nadal said. “That’s what cannot happen in (the) next round.”
That’s because he’ll face No. 5 Robin Soderling of Sweden, the only man to defeat Nadal at the French Open — in the fourth round in 2009. It’s also a rematch of last year’s final, which Nadal won in straight sets.
While Nadal and Soderling both advanced with relative ease Monday, 34th-ranked Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina put in a lot of work before edging Alejandro Falla of Colombia 4-6, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 to return to the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the first time since 2004.