Rafael Nadal may be ranked as the No. 1 player in the world, but No. 28 Alexandr Dolgopolov was neither afraid nor fazed by the Spaniard in Indian Wells.
After falling in straight sets to the Spaniard in the Rio Open finals, Dolgopolov took care of Nadal on Monday, winning his first-ever set against him and ultimately clinching the match, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
The win means the Ukranian is advancing to the fourth round of the 2014 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California. The tournament's official site reported the final following the match:
With all of the pressure squarely on Nadal's shoulders, Dolgopolov provided a slight glimmer of hope for his country in the midst of war, as Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times points out:
Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine ousts No1 Rafael Nadal, defending champ, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5). Some much needed good news for Ukraine. #BNPPO14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 11, 2014
The first set was another strenuous one for Nadal as he was noticeably off his game. Dolgopolov registered a total of five aces in the first set as Nadal couldn't find a way to return his strong service game.
It was the first set win for Dolgo over Nadal, as Steve Tignor of Tennis Magazine points out:
High-flying Alex Dolgopolov wins his 1st set from Rafael Nadal in 11 tries, 6-3. Rafa with just 3 winners. #BNPPO14— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) March 11, 2014
The turning point for Nadal in the second set came midway through as he broke serve and took a 4-2 lead over Dolgopolov. Nadal then went on to dominate with his own service game to take a 5-2 lead and would eventually clinch the set easily.
Dolgopolov was running all over the baseline attempting to return Nadal's returns, but appeared to wear down during the final game as Nadal took the set with a huge serve. After playing a nearly perfect first set, the Ukranian finished with countless unforced errors, per Tennis TV:
The errors resurfaced for Dolgopolov in the final set after he won the first game. After his shot failed to clear the net during a long point, Dolgo's shot sailed wide off the court and gave Nadal an easy winner in the second game.
But the pivotal point of the entire match came when Nadal's serve was broken to give Dolgo a leg up and eventually spurred him to a 5-2 lead. The Ukranian had the world No. 1 scuffling around the court, but would drop the next three games and allow Nadal to stage a comeback.
Thanks to the confidence from the early games in the match, Dolgopolov had the wherewithal to take down Nadal with a huge forehand. That final shot sent him running wildly around the court in excitement after being the first player to defeat Nadal in the U.S. in quite some time, as Tennis View Magazine notes:
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal loses in North America for the first time in two years.— Tennis View Magazine (@TennisViewMag) March 11, 2014
Coming in as the defending champion and favorite to win the entire tournament, Nadal struggled to find any consistency. After nearly losing to Radek Stepanek, Nadal admitted that his back injury was still hampering him, but he was able to figure out his serve again, per Jim Short of The Associated Press:
With my serve I was doing nothing. When that happens, the opponent is able to play more aggressive, play more confident and in the end, eight double faults, I give him an opportunity to win a lot of free points
I was a little bit scared for the back. I am not feeling 100 percent confident with my serve. But probably that match is going to help me understand that I can start to serve normal again.
While the back was clearly still a concern for Nadal, he's now out of the tournament and won't have a chance to defend his crown at Indian Wells. As for Dolgopolov's next opponent, the Ukranian has fared well against Fabio Fognini.
The sample size is small between the two opponents, but Dolgopolov holds the edge with a 3-1 record against Fognini. In their most recent match at Rio de Janeiro earlier in the season, Dolgopolov won his third straight over the current No. 14 player with a 6-1, 6-1 win in the quarterfinals.
Dolgopolov will also see a jump in the standings following this monumental win for his career. With a stacked field ahead of him that could include Andy Murray, Roger Federer and even Novak Djokovic if Dolgo can get past Fognini, the upset could be one of many for the Ukranian.