Rafael Nadal made a triumphant return from a two-month leave on Wednesday but his foot injury escalated and he needed a third-set tiebreaker to overtake American Jack Sack and advance to the ATP City Open.
The 35-year-old Spanish left-hander, the 20-time Grand Slam champion who is making his debut in Washington, defeated the 192nd-ranked Sack 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/1) in a thrilling three-hour match. Sent to the US Open Hard Court Tune Up event before approximately 77,000 spectators.
“I’m fine,” Nadal said. “I need to reduce the pain in my feet.”
Third-seeded Nadal did not play in the June French semi-finals after losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic, leaving Wimbledon and the Olympics with a left foot injury that hampered the match.
“My feet hurt,” Nadal said. “Tonight was painful. Hopefully tomorrow will feel better. It helps to win the match.
“I finished the match well. It’s important. I hope I’m ready for tomorrow.”
Top seed Nadal, pursuing the 89th title of his career, will face 50th-ranked Lloyd Harris of South Africa on Thursday for the quarter-finals.
Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer all entered the US Open with a record 20 men’s career slam titles, Djokovic trying to complete the first men’s calendar year grand slam since Rod Lever in 1969.
The electronic environment welcomed Nadal’s first US match since defeating Daniel Medvedev in the final of the 2019 US Open and his first hard court match since February.
“It’s been amazing, in terms of energy, in terms of crowds,” Nadal said.
Nadal has improved all his time to a 6-0 win over Sak since his first meeting since 2017, but he needs a dramatic victory in a tense battle.
“These kinds of matches help you improve,” Nadal said. “You need matches that are fit after a month of no competition.
“But it’s part of the process, so it’s something I’m not worried about.
“If I can get my feet wet, I think the rest will come in stages.”
Nadal took the first five points of the tiebreaker and won it with a four-handed winner.
“I know that after a few months of getting back on your feet from a difficult situation, playing without a few months, it won’t be easy,” Nadal said. “But I’m here. I fought. I’m able to play again.”
Sack broke Nadal to open the final set and competed for a breakpoint in the second game, with Nadal sending a four-hander.
Fans shouted for Nadal’s return, with Sak gesturing to kiss the crowd after the winner took a 3-1 lead.
Nadal stepped back in the sixth game, saving a backhand on a drop that Sack could only get into the net to level the score at 3-3, with Nadal pumping his fist and screaming in celebration.
Nadal showed great moments with his shot-making, including the backhand overhead Smash winner in the seventh game, when he fought in a tiebreaker.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori thrashed ninth-seeded Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bablik 6-2, 7-5 to block Nadal’s path. The 2015 Washington champion met with British seventh seed Cameron Nouri on the last eight dates with Nadal.
British sixth seed Daniel Evans lost his first match, 7-6 (7/1), 6-0 (7/1) to American wildcard Brendan Nakashima in his first match since signing the Cowboys 19 and losing the Olympics.
Australian third seed Alex de Manor was defeated by 81st-ranked American Steve Johnson 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-2 and Bulgaria’s fourth seed Gregor Dimitrov was defeated 65th-ranked Ilya Ayushka of Belarus 6-2. Defeated by 7-6 (7/4).