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Friday, October 7, 2022

Rafael Nadal Loses His Serve and His Way in the United States Open

On Monday, Rafael Nadal clinched his fists and yelled at the U.S. Open. He had just broken Frances Tiafoe’s serve to take a 3-1 lead in the fourth set against a much younger, motivated American opponent who had previously faltered with a huge upset in sight.

However, a curious occurrence occurred on the route to another rebirth. Next, beneath the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Nadal lost his serve and his composure, and while he still battled and unleashed his signature topspin forehand, he was ultimately unable to escape a disappointing fourth-round upset. As Nadal, unclouded by triumph or failure, noted, tennis matches are often decided by court position.

Tiafoe played the most of the match on or around the baseline, making fast cuts and accumulating 49 wins. Too much of the match was spent by Nadal below the baseline, dashing to the corners to lengthen rallies (or not). His performance lacked verve and substance.

This could go down as one of Nadal’s finest seasons, not his most complete, but the year he grabbed the lead in the race for the most Grand Slam singles championships over his longtime rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Nadal won his 21st in the Australian Open, his 22nd at the French Open, and almost his 23rd at Wimbledon when an abdominal ailment caused him to withdraw before to the semifinals.

But Nadal, so used to the road to recovery, was able to train with full energy in Ohio, pushing himself on the practise courts with instructors Marc Lopez and Francisco Roig, then in New York once Carlos Moya, the team’s leader, arrived.

Nadal won his 21st in the Australian Open, his 22nd at the French Open, and almost his 23rd at Wimbledon when an abdominal ailment caused him to withdraw before to the semifinals.

But Nadal, so used to the road to recovery, was able to train with full energy in Ohio, pushing himself on the practise courts with instructors Marc Lopez and Francisco Roig, then in New York once Carlos Moya, the team’s leader, arrived.

Nadal suffered a stress fracture in his ribs after a physically demanding match in which several last-second swing changes were required owing to heavy gusts. Even though he reached the final and lost to Taylor Fritz, his training for his favourite clay-court season was cut short by a fresh injury.

When he returned, the ache in his foot reappeared. After losing to Denis Shapovalov at the Italian Open in mid-May, he seemed as despondent as he ever had after a loss, and he spoke freely and cruelly about the possibility that tennis was no longer worth the bother or the suffering.

But after contemplating retirement for the second time in a year, Nadal found a way to win his 14th French Open with the aid of daily painkiller injections. Then, before to Wimbledon, he had a treatment in which radio waves were used to numb the nerves in his foot, which provided a more permanent solution to the agony.

He came in London relieved and revitalised, only to hurt his abdominal muscle in the quarterfinal triumph over Fritz. But there was no semifinal match, as Nadal withdrew before meeting Nick Kyrgios, and there will be no deep run at the U.S. Open, where Nadal won his fourth singles championship on his last visit in 2019, but was unable to reach the same heights on this trip.

It is not quite time: Djokovic, 35, recently won Wimbledon and will likely be eager for further success in 2023 if he is able to play a larger schedule.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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