NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – On the court where he has won four of his record 22 Grand Slam titles, Rafael Nadal has admitted he doubts whether he will ever return to the US Open.
His first match at Flushing Meadows since 2019 ended Tuesday night with a four-set win against an opponent who baptized himself as a Grand Slam and dared to snatch the first set from him.
Nadal went undefeated at the big events this year, now with a 20-0 record, defeating 21-year-old Australian Rinki Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 to enter the main event. Thank you at the invitation of the organisers.
The Spanish star featured no sequels which compromised after a tear in an abdominal muscle forced him to leave Wimbledon in early July, depriving him of semi-final play. The retirement was not recorded as a loss, as he did not take court to face Nick Kyrgios.
Nadal’s last of four US Open coronations took place three years ago when he defeated Daniil Medveded in a thrilling five-set final. But he did not take part in the 2020 edition amid the coronavirus pandemic, and he also could not come due to a left leg injury last year.
“It’s been too long since I haven’t been here,” Nadal said of playing the night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “A long time ago I didn’t know I’d be back here.”
“I suffered for a long time and played much better,” he said. “I definitely need to improve.”
Between his retirement at Wimbledon and this final week of August, the world number two has barely played a match – a match he lost to Borna Couric at the Cincinnati Masters two weeks ago.
“I haven’t played much in the last 15 days,” said Nadal, whose next opponent will be Fabio Fognini. “You have to be humble and accept the process. You have to fight and accept that you will suffer. It’s time to survive, with the right attitude. That’s what I had to do.”
“I want to continue to enjoy tennis as much as I can,” he insisted.
That’s also the slogan Carlos Alcaraz, the new Spanish tennis phenomenon.
New Christmas. Next number one. Next of all.
At just 20 years old, Alkaraz must overcome the pressure of expectations created by his spectacular takeoff.
For now, he passed his first Test in New York when his Argentine rival Sebastian Baez had to leave in the third set with an injury to his right leg.
“I would say there’s a little pressure on me, but I try not to think about it,” he said. “I’m not next. I don’t see myself as anything more than number four[in the ranking]. I live in the moment, so I don’t feel like I’m taking anyone’s place or the next great player.”
On a sweltering afternoon, Alcarz was leading 7-5, 7-5, 2-0 when Badge went to the doctor and threw in the towel to end an amusing fight at Ash.
“No one deserves to end up like this,” said Alcarz, ranked 37th in the rankings. “In the second set, it was very difficult for me to maintain my level physically and mentally. But the energy I got (from the public) was something special.
Exactly in New York, a year earlier, Alcaraz seriously began his strides toward aristocracy. He was ranked 54th in the world and reached the quarter-finals. He is now fourth in the rankings, in a season in which he has already won two Masters 1000 titles in Miami and Madrid. In April, a month before his 19th birthday, he became the youngest person to make the top 10 since Nadal 17 years earlier.
He was shelved from the label of title favorite in the last two majors, but was stopped in the French Open quarterfinals and in the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
On the eve of the US Open, Alcaraz openly admitted he didn’t know how to handle pressure after making his debut at the Montreal Masters earlier this month.
Now he wants to go easy. He wants to be “Carlitos” lately.
“I want to enjoy these moments, fighting against the best in the world in the best tournament,” he said. “Nothing more than that, it was fun.”
His next opponent will be Federico Correa of Argentina. After falling in the first change in the last five majors, Korea sent off Dutchman Talon Grixpour 7–5, 6–4, 6–3.
Plans before Alkraj?
“I need a miracle, but I’m going to try to make him as uncomfortable with my game as possible,” Correa said before joining the chorus, pointing to the Spaniard as the next star. “It’s an honor and a privilege to play alongside someone who has been involved in big tournaments”.
Korea is one of three Argentines that have reached the third round. The others are Diego Schwartzman and Pedro Kachin.
Schwartzman (seeded 14th) was on the verge of knockout against Jack Sock, losing the first two sets (6–3 and 7–5). But the American had to retire after falling in the third quarter (6-0) and losing the first game of the fourth due to back pain.
“I would have won in three easy sets. I have been very lucky,” said Schwartzman, whose next opponent will be Australian Alexei Popyrin.