Rafael Nadal admits he ‘needs’ to do four things after losing first match since Wimbledon

Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal struggles through injury against Fritz

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Rafael Nadal appeared to target four areas where he needs to improve after being dumped out of the Cincinnati Masters by Borna Coric. In his first match back since withdrawing from Wimbledon with an abdominal injury, Nadal lost 7-6 (9-7) 4-6 6-3 to the world number 152, later admitting he’s only managed two practice sets in the past 40 days.

The defeat represents a blow to the Spaniard’s hopes of being at full tilt for the US Open later this month, where he’ll be aiming to win a third Grand Slam of 2022. And that’s despite an injury-plagued year, missing several weeks of the season after suffering a fractured rib in his final defeat to Taylor Fritz at Indian Wells.

He then defied his long-term foot injury to win the French Open, needing a series of painkiller injections during the tournament, before the abdominal problem which forced him to miss his semi-final at SW19 against Nick Kyrgios. And the ring-rust was all too evident against Coric, with both players rescuing two set points during a marathon first-set tie break that eventually fell to the Croatian.

Nadal responded by claiming the first break point of the contest in the second set and levelling the match, before surrendering an early break in the decider as Coric finished strongly to claim victory. And afterwards, the icon seemed to cite practice, more time on court, an improvement in play and his return of serve as areas to address before Flushing Meadows.

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“Obviously I didn’t play my best match,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference. “[It is] something that can happen. Historically this tournament has been difficult for me. So coming back from a tough period of time, [it is] something that’s easy to accept and easy to say congrats to Borna, that he played better.

“It’s difficult to take a lot of positive things, but I need to improve,” Nadal said. “I need to practice. I need to return better. I need days [on the court], and that’s the truth. Obviously I had my chances in the beginning. In the tie-break I had two important chances with two set points that I played terrible with two more-or-less easy shots.”

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Nadal, 36, was absent from New York last year as Daniil Medvedev claimed a maiden Slam, beating Novak Djokovic in the final. This time, it’s the Serbian who will be missing over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Djokovic winning Wimbledon took his total of Slam wins to 21. That’s just one short of all-time record holder Nadal, whose hopes of a ‘calendar slam’ were ended by that Wimbledon withdrawal.

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