Rafael Nadal made a triumphant return from a two-month layoff on Wednesday but aggravated a foot injury and needed a third-set tie-breaker to outlast American Jack Sock and advance at the ATP Citi Open.
The 35-year-old Spanish left-hander, a 20-time Grand Slam champion making his Washington debut, dispatched 192nd-ranked Sock 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/1) in a three-hour thriller before about 7,000 spectators at the US Open hardcourt tuneup event. “My fitness is fine,” Nadal said. “I need to have a little bit less pain in the foot.”
Third-ranked Nadal had not played since losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in June’s French Open semi-finals, skipping Wimbledon and the Olympics due to the left foot injury that hindered him in the match.
Top seed Nadal, chasing his 89th career title, will face 50th-ranked Lloyd Harris of South Africa on Thursday for a quarter-final berth. Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer all enter the US Open with a men’s record 20 career Slam titles, with Djokovic trying to complete the first men’s calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
An electric atmosphere greeted Nadal’s first US match since beating Daniil Medvedev in the 2019 US Open final and his first hardcourt match since February. Nadal improved to 6-0 all-time against Sock by taking their first meeting since 2017, but needed to grind out a dramatic victory in a tension packed duel.
Nadal took the first five points of the tie-breaker and clinched it with a forehand winner.
Sock broke Nadal to open the final set and fought off a break point in the second game, Nadal sending a forehand just wide.
Fans yelled for a Nadal comeback, prompting Sock to blow a kiss to the crowd after a winner on his way to taking a 3-1 lead.
Nadal broke back in the sixth game, making a backhand save on a drop volley that Sock could only swat into the net to level matters at 3-3, Nadal pumping his fists and screaming in celebration. Nadal showed maestro moments with his shotmaking, including a backhand overhead smash winner in holding the seventh game, as they battled into the tie-breaker.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori stayed in Nadal’s path by downing ninth seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 6-2, 7-5.
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