Mats Wilander has praised Rafael Nadal after his 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win against Karen Khachanov, calling the 2009 Australian Open winner one of the smartest ever players who has adapted to his own limitations to prolong his success.
After the match, Mats Wilander in the Eurosport Cube said that, despite his advancing years, the 20-time Grand Slam winner still has fantastic mobility.
“I think he's moving brilliantly” said Wilander, but the seven-time major winner reserved special praise for the Spaniard’s intelligence.
Khachanov halts Norrie's French Open challenge in third round
Nadal, Wilander noted, modified how early he took the ball against Khachanov, taking into account the player he was playing but also the conditions – his previous two encounters had been day matches.
Effectively, Nadal was, at times, playing two metres closer to the baseline than in those previous encounters, and it proved a fruitful change of tactics.
“It was just an absolute brilliant tactical move,” exclaimed Wilander, “by one of the smartest players of all time understanding his own limitations.”
Nadal will face either Adrian Mannarino or Aslan Karatsev in the next round on Sunday and puts his success down to his desire for continual improvement.
“I think during all my tennis career I have been improving and improving on all the surfaces. That was always my goal to be a better player in general terms,” said Nadal to reporters after the match.
The two-day rest will be a welcome one for a player who was unsure of his participation in the event just a matter of weeks ago, and Nadal told reporters that the foot injury that sidelined him during the winter months remained bothersome.
"As I said the other day, the foot injury we cannot fix completely, so we need to find a way that the pain is under control to play, to keep playing," said Nadal.
"That's the goal. Honestly I was not able to practise very often. But when I was practising, the feeling on the ball was quite good. I have been a lot of months without competing. The movements, all this stuff, you need to recover day-by-day. There is no way to recover those things without competing."
Following the rudimentary, straight-sets wins against Marcos Giron and Yannick Hanfmann, Khachanov was a more thorough examination of Nadal's credentials. While he saw his Russian opponent off, he had warm words for him on court afterwards.
"Tonight I played against a great player and a good friend on tour, having I think my best match without a doubt since I came back,” said Nadal after the match.
“I wish him all the very best for the season, honestly, I wish him well."

Highlights: Nadal recovers from third-set blip to beat Khachanov

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