Rio 2016: Rafael Nadal eases injury doubts with win; Andy Murray, Venus Williams win

The 2008 champion defeated Gilles Simon 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 for his eighth win over the Frenchman in nine meetings.
EPA
EPA

Rafael Nadal reached the Olympic Games quarter-finals Thursday, winning the first of 10 matches he will need to sweep in just four days if he is to secure triple Rio gold.

The 2008 champion defeated Gilles Simon 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 for his eighth win over the Frenchman in nine meetings.

Nadal, a 14-time major winner, is playing in his first tournament in two months after a wrist injury caused an early withdrawal from the French Open.

After torrential rain wiped out Wednesday’s entire programme, the 30-year-old faced an epic test of his fitness and stamina.

Nadal also had doubles and mixed doubles matches scheduled for Thursday. • More: What to watch for on Olympics Day 6

Simon’s only win over Nadal came eight years ago, but he proved a thorn in the side of the Spaniard in the opening set.

He broke for 2-1 before the Spaniard levelled at 2-2. Nadal was quickly 4-2 up but the dogged 15th seed hit back in the seventh game.

Nadal swept to a 5/1 lead in the tiebreaker but he still couldn’t shake off the 31-year-old who clung on for 5/5 before the former world number one grabbed the opener.

The second set started far more comfortably with Nadal grabbing a double break to stretch to 4-0 on his way into the last-eight.

Murray escapes with win

Defending champion Andy Murray survived a huge scare to reach the Olympic Games quarter-finals on Thursday, coming back from 3-0 down in the deciding set to defeat Italy’s Fabio Fognini.

Second seed Murray, bidding to become the first player to defend an Olympic singles title, came through 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 and will face American 12th seed Steve Johnson for a semi-final spot.

But it was an uncomfortable day for the world number two who had been in complete control of the tie in the early stages.

He raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set, courtesy of two breaks, as 29-year-old Fognini threatened to implode, angrily crashing his racquet into the surface of the centre court.

The Wimbledon champion broke for 2-1 in the second set before the momentum of the match dramatically shifted.

Fognini won the next five games to pocket the set and level the tie.

The Italian, ranked 41 in the world, has a history of upsetting the established order in tennis -- last year, he sent Rafael Nadal crashing out of the US Open from two sets down.

And he was proving to be just as unpredictable on Thursday as he stretched to a 3-0 lead in the decider, having captured eight successive games.

Murray stopped the rot with a service hold and retrieved the break for 2-3.

Fognini began to crack, lost his composure and a relieved British star triumphed, having claimed six games on the spin.

However, his 48 unforced errors will be a cause for concern as he eyes a title repeat.

Venus stays alive

Upset in the first round in singles and doubles, the four-time gold medalist faced two match points Thursday in her opening mixed doubles match with U.S. teammate Rajeev Ram.

They saved both – one on a reflex volley by Ram that went for a winner – in rallying from a set down for a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3), 10-8 tiebreak win over Kiki Bertens and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands.

Williams wasn’t originally expected to play mixed doubles in Rio but was entered in the draw after her two early exits, which came while she was battling a virus. The 36-year-old was still coughing Thursday but didn’t want to talk about her health.

She says: “What can you do except come back and play again?”

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Published: August 11, 2016 04:00 AM

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