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Rafael Nadal squeezes past qualifier Zizou Bergs in Rome opener

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Rafael Nadal battled into the second round of the Rome Open on Thursday after bouncing back from a set down to beat qualifier Zizou Bergs 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Clay court icon Nadal will face world number nine Hubert Hurkacz next as he continued his comeback from injury with a punishing match against his Belgian opponent which lasted nearly three hours.

Also on Nadal’s side of the draw are last year’s winner, world number four Daniil Medvedev, and the beaten finalist Holger Rune.

Nadal has in recent times been a shadow of the player who has won 22 Grand Slams in a storied career which has also brought a record 10 titles in Rome, his most recent in 2021.

The 37-year-old has struggled with injury, dropping down to 305 in the world rankings after missing almost all of last year.

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He returned in April from another three-month lay-off with a second-round exit in Barcelona before reaching the last 16 in Madrid last week.

He showed glimpses of his old self against Bergs who is ranked 108 in the world and is an eight-time title winner on the Challenger tour.

Outsider Bergs, 24, had in previous tournaments taken sets off high-profile players like Stefanos Tsitsipas and last year’s losing Rome Open finalist Holger Rune, and he pushed his illustrious rival all the way.

The big-hitting Belgian briefly looked like he might win the biggest match of his career to date before Rafael Nadal fought back to take a hard-fought victory.

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