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Nadal eyes French Open bid despite early Rome exit

By AFP - May 11,2024 - Last updated at May 11,2024

Spain’s Rafael Nadal (left) looks dejected after being eliminated by Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz during the Men’s ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on Saturday (AFP photo)

ROME — Rafael Nadal said on Saturday that he is leaning towards playing at the French Open despite being eliminated in the second round in Rome, 6-1, 6-3 by Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz.

Clay-court icon Nadal had previously said that he would only play at the French Open, where he has won a record 14 titles, if he feels competitive after a raft of injury problems over the last two years which have left him languishing 305th in the world rankings.

And the manner of his elimination in his first ever encounter with Hurkacz was a step backwards after reaching the last 16 in Madrid, leaving a question mark hanging over his plans.

“The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today. But if I have to say what’s my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I am going to say to be in Roland Garros and try my best,” Nadal told reporters.

“Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say I’m not playing in the most important event of my tennis career. Let’s see what’s going on, how I feel myself mentally tomorrow, after tomorrow, and in one week.”

Nadal held his own in the first two games in the first set, which took 26 minutes to complete, but then fell away as errors handed Hurkacz points.

The 37-year-old twice gave away breaks of serve with miscued drop shots in the first set which Hurkacz closed out in 49 minutes as he blew through five straight games.

 

‘Bigger than the sport’ 

 

And the match was as good as done when Hurkacz, who didn’t drop a single service game, broke Nadal in the third game of the second set to set up a famous victory.

The level of dominance over Nadal on clay, much less a court where he has won a record 10 titles, would have been unimaginable a few short years ago.

“I’m definitely very proud of myself, playing Rafa is something special. It’s different, especially with it being on clay,” said Hurkacz.

“No-one will ever have a record like him on this surface. He’s just bigger than the sport at the end of the day.”

Hurkacz will face Tomas Etcheverry in the third round after likely ending Nadal’s love affair with Rome as the 22-time Grand Slam winner said that he was “98 per cent” sure that he would never again grace the Roman clay.

Second seed Daniil Medvedev kicked off his title defence by beating Briton Jack Draper in straight sets 7-5, 6-4 to set up a third-round clash with qualifier Hamad Medjedovic.

 

Swiatek, Osaka through 

 

Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka are both in the women’s last 16 after beating Yulia Putintseva and Daria Kasatkina respectively.

World No.1 Swiatek will next face either Angelique Kerber after seeing off Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-4 as she bids to become the first woman since Serena Williams to claim a third Rome title.

The 22-year-old came into the event having won the Madrid Open last weekend and will also be gunning for a fourth French Open crown later this month.

She made harder work than expected of Saturday’s match after comfortably taking the first set, finding herself 4-1 down in the second before she rattled off five games in a row to take her record against Puntintseva to four wins without dropping a set.

“I’m happy with the way I played... I knew what I wanted to improve. At the end I’m happy that I finished in two sets,” said Swiatek.

Osaka is ranked at 173 in the world after taking a break from the tour to have her first child but is in good form, yet to drop a set after beating 10th-seeded Kasatkina 6-3, 6-3.

“I’m very grateful to be healthy because I know how much hard work it took for me to be here,” Osaka told reporters.

“I don’t know. I feel like I’m just clawing my way back to hopefully where I think I belong.”

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