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Rafael Nadal: Hubert Hurkacz beats 22-time Grand Slam champion in Rome

Rafael Nadal has been eliminated from the Italian Open in Rome. World number 9 Hubert Hurkacz won 6-1, 6-4 to face Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry.

Nadal experienced something that rarely played a role in his career: a minor case of altitude sickness. The Spaniard’s last match (and win) against a top 10 player was a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Norwegian Casper Ruud at the 2022 ATP Finals in Turin, where he left during the round-robin phase after defeats against Felix Auger. -Aliassime from Canada and Taylor Fritz from the US

Since then he has played just 14 matches against opponents with an average ranking of 124. This is inflated by his match in Barcelona against world number 1028 Darwin Blanch, but even if we remove it from the dataset the average ranking is 54.

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This was their first meeting and Nadal tried to make an early effort. His average forehand speed rose from 120 km/h during his victory over world No. 108 Zizou Bergs to 132 km/h early on, but the increase did not translate into an easy ride.

Both men struggled to win cheap points on serve, with the first four matches lasting 36 minutes. Hurkacz broke to lead 3-1 after a drop shot from behind the baseline, signaling Nadal’s desire to shorten exchanges. The match at 1-5 illustrated where Nadal is now: he hit the kind of cross-court forehand winner that even Hurkacz can only dream of when he goes to bed tonight on his way to two break points, but the overall match, the meat of this all could not put consistent enough pressure on the Pole to convert them.


It was probably Nadal’s last match in Rome (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

In a sense, this is progress, but the kind of progress that the tennis scoring system and the realities of the individual sport fail to recognize. He participated. 6-1 flattered Hurkacz. He took a point of 2-2 instead of 1-3. This is all true.

It doesn’t matter how much it is.


After the match, Nadal was optimistic about the prospect of playing at the French Open in two weeks.

“As you can imagine, the decision is not clear in my mind today,” he said.

“But if I have to say what I feel and if my thoughts are somehow closer together, then I say: be at Roland Garros and do my best.”

This is an improvement from the Madrid Open, where he said if he felt the way he did there, he wouldn’t take the court in Paris.

  • If you would like to follow our fantastic tennis report, click here.

When Dominic Thiem – the former world number 3, and one of Nadal’s biggest rivals on clay, where being close is still so far away – announced his retirement at the end of the 2024 season, a slew of farewell posts followed. capturing career highlights: the one-handed backhand from space; the stunning victories over Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic; the 2020 US Open final, where he came from two sets down to claim his only Grand Slam title.

Thiem has six months of tennis left, give or take. He’s not gone. But the messages and the announcement had the effect of splitting him in two – the Thiem who was and could have been, and the Thiem he is now – when in reality they are one and the same. Tennis is not like football, where great players like Lionel Messi can achieve incredible things, then drop back to a level that suits them and still do incredible things, transcending the layers of the sport.

The tennis tour is the tennis tour: you lose the match and the tournament ends. You go home and you rest and you train and you go back in knowing that it might happen again. The brain, the will, the muscle memory and the experience of 10 titles and 70 victories in Rome can only drive Nadal’s body so far.

Hurkacz is a great example of the opposite: a consistent top-10 player, a deep runner-and-rider in virtually every tournament he enters, who because of his generation will probably never win a Grand Slam title and can retire as a from the good, the very good, the very very good, with little waste. That was enough in the second set, where his greater ability to win points on serve took him to the front and kept him there after he scored a break with a net string that brought a wide forehand pass back into the court. Even speaking on the court after watching Nadal grow up, calling him ‘bigger than the sport’, even taking into account the astonishing statistics – Nadal’s third worst defeat on clay; Hurkacz was the second player ever to beat Federer on straights on grass and did the same to Nadal on clay. The reality of the match was a higher ranked player beating what was in front of him.


Hurkacz’s serve was enough to see him through (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Matches like this show that players cannot be split into then and now, into nostalgia and reality, into one version that needs a miracle and a favorable draw to do anything at the French Open, and another that has fourteen titles, even though he did. won 112 matches and lost three, where in 2022 he won the final against Casper Ruud with a numb foot like a lump of coal before he even stepped on the red earth.

The same goes for opponents like Hurkacz, who are similarly playing an idol and a legend, and a player they now have to beat in terms of form and fitness.

As he left the court, a song about the tannoy sounded.

Can you meet me halfway? Right on the border
I’ll wait for you there
I will watch day and night
I’ve pushed my heart to the limit, and this is where I stay

(Oh Oh)
I can’t go any further than this
(Oh Oh)
I want you so bad, it’s my only wish

Meet Me Halfway, by The Black Eyed Peas.

Rafael Nadal, 22-time Grand Slam champion, meets Rafael Nadal, number 305 in the world.

(Top photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)