Rafael Nadal was a player to beat in the first half of 2022. The Spaniard won 19 consecutive matches at Majors before withdrawing ahead of the Wimbledon semi-final due to an abdominal tear. Rafa is yet to find his old form, losing six of the last seven matches since the US Open’s fourth round.
The Spaniard is yet to score a win in 2023 following two tight losses at the United Cup in Sydney. Nadal spent almost six hours on the court against Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur, taking the opening set but losing the remaining ones.
The Spaniard is happy with the time spent on the court, needing that after reducing his schedule since August. Rafa would have loved to score at least one victory but will make a fresh start at the Australian Open. Nadal fell to Alex de Minaur 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 in two hours and 42 minutes.
The Aussie made a strong comeback in the second set and delivered a late break in the decider to celebrate his second consecutive top-5 triumph after 18 straight defeats! Alex defended eight out of 12 break points and broke Rafa six times, including that essential break at 5-5 in the final set.
Nadal experienced a break at 2-2 in the opener after a wayward forehand. The Spaniard pulled the break back in game six and gained confidence. He secured another return game at 4-3 from 40-0 down to build the advantage. Rafa cracked a backhand crosscourt winner in game nine to rattle off four straight games and close the opener.
The second set saw only seven games, and they needed over 50 minutes to finish it after numerous deuces. Rafa delivered his third straight break for a 6-3, 1-0 advantage, looking good to bring the victory home. The Aussie kept fighting and seized the fourth break chance in game two with a backhand winner.
Alex grabbed the fourth break point with a backhand winner in game four to open a 3-1 gap. De Minaur saved a break point in the next one and broke Nadal again for 5-1.
Rafael Nadal lost both matches at the United Cup.
The Aussie climbed back from 0-40 in game seven and seized the second set point after forcing Nadal’s mistake to rattle off six straight games.
Rafa made a better start in the final set, serving well and earning break chances in game two. De Minaur denied four and closed the game to avoid an early setback. Alex delivered a break at 15 in game five and moved closer to the finish line.
However, Nadal cracked a forehand crosscourt winner in the next one to pull the break back and extend the battle. The Spaniard held at love in the ninth game for 5-4, with his opponent serving to stay in the match. Alex showed no sign of nerves in the tenth game, bringing it home at 30 for 5-5.
Nadal played a terrible service game in the worst moment and got broken at love after a forehand error. De Minaur served for the victory at 6-5 and fired a service winner for a hold at love and a career-best win in his hometown.
“I spent almost six hours on the court in two matches, and I need more battles like this. I have not played too many encounters in the past six or seven months, and it’s always good when you play competitive duels.
Victories make the process faster, but I have to keep fighting. My level was high sometimes, especially from my backhand wind and during changes of direction from my forehand. Putting everything in perspective, the conditions are not ideal for me.
The ball was dead today and did not help much with my spin. My rival took advantage of flatter shots, but I’m not looking for excuses. I had some good moments today, but it was not enough,” Rafael Nadal said.