Rafael Nadal was convinced he lost before storming back to win at Indian Wells

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, reacts after winning a match against Sebastian Korda.
Rafael Nadal celebrates after his comeback win over Sebastian Korda at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Saturday.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Rafael Nadal is the ultimate escape artist, but he wondered if he had pushed his luck when he was down 2-5 and two breaks in the third set against Sebastian Korda on Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open. Korda’s backhand was sizzling and his court coverage was exceptional, causing problems Nadal couldn’t solve. “I thought I was lost today,” Nadal said.

He told himself to play better so he could at least walk away feeling good about some part of his game. He began to chip away at his deficit and as he did, he planted doubts in Korda’s mind. “Normal thing with this kind of match, in that position, of 100 matches probably you going to lose 90,” said Nadal, who withdrew from the next tour event, the Miami Open, to guard against fatigue. “But if you give up, you’re going to lose 100.”

Rafael Nadal could barely walk six months ago because of his recurring foot problems, but this week he’s grateful to be in fine form at Indian Wells.

Capitalizing on Korda’s growing nerves and adjusting his tactics to come closer to the baseline and rely more on his forehand, Nadal roared back to win four straight games. In the tiebreak he rallied from 2-3 to pull out a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (3) victory over Korda, 21, the best hope for American male tennis players to again be factors in major tournaments and probably the only one with a cat named “Raffy” in honor of Nadal.


Nadal, who will be 36 in June, extended his remarkable season start to 16-0. That includes his comeback from two sets down against Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final, which gave him a men’s-record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

“He’s an incredible fighter. Probably one of the greatest fighters of all time. And just used it and kept on going,” said Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and former tour player Regina Rajchrtova, and brother of LPGA players Nelly and Jessica Korda.

“To kind of push him to the edge was awesome,” Korda said. “Shows a lot of my game, how dangerous it can be against tough opponents.”

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during his match against Sebastian Korda on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Nadal, the No. 4 seed, will face No. 27 Daniel Evans of Britain on Monday in the round of 32. Nadal hopes to avoid fighting his way out of a corner again. “I was super lucky today to be through, honestly,” he said. “Accepting that, I need to play better, because I didn’t play well.”

Medvedev had an easy time in his first match here, also his first as No. 1 in the world. Medvedev saved the lone break point he faced and won 80% of his first serve points in defeating Czech Tomas Machac 6-3, 6-2 and advancing to the round of 32.

“For me, it’s a great feeling,” the 6-foot-6 Russian said of his competitive debut as No. 1. “Something I’ve always dreamt of, something I was going for. At the same time, I want to play better, I want to try to win more.”