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MX News Update 2024

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Rafael Nadal shows he is not quite ready for retirement in a comeback victory at the Italian Open

ROME – On Thursday, Rafael Nadal briefly looked like a tired 37-year-old player on the verge of retirement.

Nadal struggled to produce pace at either end with his basic shots, made an unusually high number of unforced errors and was unable to stay in the rallies. Nadal dropped the first set of his first-round match at the Italian Open against Belgian qualifier Zizou Bergs.

Then the fist-pumping, virtually unbeatable, 22-time Grand Slam champion version of Nadal emerged and the Spaniard rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in front of an adoring crowd in what is likely to happen. his last tournament at the Foro Italico.

Nadal played only his 10th match this year after missing almost all of 2023 due to a hip injury that required surgery. He hopes to be competitive one last time at the French Open, where he is a fourteen-time champion. Rome, where he is a ten-time champion, is his last major warm-up tournament before Roland Garros starts on May 26.

Nadal suffered a straight-up loss to 31st seed Jiri Lehecka in the fourth round of the Madrid Open. But he has never lost consecutive matches on clay in his entire career and now that impressive statistic remains intact in what has been declared to be his final season on tour.

Nadal got off to a strong start, unleashing a 95 mph (153 km/h) forehand winner on his way to an early break and a 3-1 lead in the first set. But he gave the break right back in the next game when he missed three weak groundstrokes into the net.

Then at 4-4, Nadal double-faulted twice and was broken again, giving 108th-ranked Bergs a 5-4 lead and a chance to serve out the set.

Spaniard Rafael Nadal wipes his brow as he plays against Belgian Zizou Bergs at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Thursday, May 9, 2024. Credit: AP/Alessandra Tarantino

In the first set, Nadal made sixteen unforced errors against Bergs’ ten.

During the first game of the second set, the match was briefly interrupted when a spectator in the stands required medical treatment. This allowed Nadal to talk to Carlos Moya, his coach.

After the 10-minute stoppage in play, Nadal raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set as he increased the power of his shots and became more aggressive.

More than once, the Campo Centrale crowd serenaded Nadal with the chant: “Ole, Ole, Ole, Na-dal, Na-dal.”

Spaniard Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Belgian Zizou Bergs at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Thursday, May 9, 2024. Credit: AP/Alessandra Tarantino

During the third set, Nadal managed to win a point after falling on the red clay, quickly rising to resume the rally and then producing a delicate drop shot winner. He then blasted a forehand crosscourt winner to take a 3-1 lead and unleashed a double-clutch fist pump.

There were more fist pumps as Nadal rallied from 0-40 on his serve to hold a 4-2 lead in the third.

Nadal’s mother and sister, seated behind the court, shouted encouragement and his 1-year-old son was also on the side of the court – sitting on Nadal’s father’s lap.

The Nadal family can now look forward to a second-round clash with seventh-seeded Hubert Hurkacz. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic is at the other end of the table, while second-ranked Jannik Sinner and third-ranked Carlos Alcaraz both withdrew due to injuries.

In other matches, Serbian qualifier Hamad Medjedovic defeated Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-2; Thiago Seboth Wild defeated French qualifier Gregoire Barrere 6-4, 6-2; and Dominik Koepfer eliminated Andrea Vavassori 6-4, 6-3.

On the women’s side, former number 1 Angelique Kerber ousted 17th seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 6-0.