Rafael Nadal, who was making his comeback at the Brisbane tournament after almost a year off due to injuries and two operations, lost in the quarter-finals to the Australian Jordan Thompson (55e), winner 5-7, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 of a former world number 1 who died physically in the last set on Friday.
“I need matches, to also play doubles, and to train well, spending hours on the court is very important for me,” Nadal said Thursday after his second round.
His wish was granted: Nadal spent almost 3 and a half hours on court against Thompson: 1 hour 14 minutes in the first set, 1 hour 19 minutes in the second, a little less in the third (51 minutes). But not for the expected result.
Beaten, the Spaniard felt “muscular” pain in his left thigh at the end of the match, in “a very similar place”, where he had injured himself a year earlier. He then left the court briefly before ending the match.
He wanted to be reassuring by explaining that it was only a question of “the over-used muscle after a few days of effort and a very difficult match” and said he hoped “to have the chance to train next week and playing in Melbourne”, while being “not 100% sure of anything at the moment”.
The Mallorcan will be able to regret the two faults committed on the first two of his three match points, by sending a high backhand volley, then a forehand, into the corridor while he had taken the upper hand each time in the rally .
Nothing to regret on the other hand on the third, beautiful and well saved by the Australian, from a deep return.
The former world number 1, 37, fell to 672e rank after his long interruption, was jostled from the start by a very incisive Thompson, especially in return of service. Which earned him to break first, at 3-3, by going up to the net to push Nadal to make a mistake.
But he, like the champion he always is, reacted immediately by taking the opponent’s service in the next game. While he was serving to get back to six games all, Thompson’s mind then cracked: a double fault, a backhand in the net, his racket thrown to the ground, and the Australian found himself trailing 0-40 , offering the set to Nadal on a new ball in the net.
In the second set, the Majorcan had opportunities, first to break, then to fold the match in two sets by obtaining three match points. But he failed to seize his chance, opening the door for Thompson to return.
Very eye-catching, this 29-year-old player who had not won a single set during their two previous face-to-face matches, managed to equalize at one set all.
The third set was fatal for Nadal: winner in two sets during the first two rounds, the Spaniard, away from the competition for too long, then ran out of fuel.
Despite the concern born from the pain felt, and despite the defeat, Nadal can nevertheless nourish reasons for satisfaction: if he seemed a little rusty on certain races forward, if his serve was faulty, he maintained long rallies and regained his splendor on certain points, like this backward smash and this backhand leg stroke to pick up a drop shot from Thomson at 4-4 in the second set, or this backhand cross passing at the end of the race at the start of the third set.
Like the best days.
Thompson will face Grigor Dimitrov (14th) in the semi-final, one of the men in form at the end of last season, who seems to be starting the year as well as he finished the previous one, with a final in Paris.