Following a gruelling three-hour, five-minute encounter to hold off a free-swinging Jack Sock, Rafael Nadal admits it is all about maximising recovery time in his first ATP Tour tournament back from a foot injury. The top seed saw off the former World No. 8 before an electric packed Stadium Court at the Citi Open, his first match since he fell to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in a physically brutal showdown in the Roland Garros semi-finals.
It was that four-set defeat to the World No. 1 in Paris that ultimately led to the Spaniard’s withdrawal from the entire grass-court swing to recuperate the troublesome left foot. Still, in his Washington debut before 7500 fans, there was enough in his play to suggest he had taken a gutsy first step back to regaining form.
“You need matches like this to be fitter after a month without competing. But that’s part of the process, and I know the process,” Nadal said. “I went through all this stuff many times on my career. So it’s something I am not worried about.
“So is about winning these kind of matches. That helps you to be better. Then, if I’m able to improve with my foot, I think the rest of the things [are] going to come step by step.”
Sock knew all too well the struggles of injury, having worked his way back through ATP Challenger Tour events in the first half of 2021 just to return to the Top 200 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday. He had his chances to secure a first ATP Head2Head victory in six meetings with the Spaniard but failed to capitalise on a 3-1 third-set lead.
As impressed as Nadal was at the former World No. 8’s level, he offered a sage warning based on his own experiences in recent seasons. The younger brigade was hungry.
“[It] is true that he went through a couple of important injuries, something that is always difficult,” Nadal said. “And it is true that today, a lot of young guys [are] there. It’s not easy to fight with all of them. They are younger, they are good. They are ready to play as many weeks as they need.
“Well, I think I saw him playing better than what he did the last couple of years, without a doubt. I’m happy for him. I wish him all the very best.”
Nadal Sinks Sock In Washington Thriller
Nadal meets 14th-seeded South African Lloyd Harris next for a place in the quarterfinals. Despite having admitted to some pain in the left foot during the match, he was prepared to forge ahead.
“I have been resting enough. Maybe [it] is not about resting, but is the moment to just keep going,” Nadal said. “[It] is the moment to not practise much because I played a three-hour match, so I need to be ready for tomorrow.
“[I will] have a short warm-up tomorrow, try to be ready for the match. I’m going to have a tough opponent in front. Let’s see. Tomorrow’s another day, another opportunity to play in front of this amazing crowd. I want to enjoy the experience again.”