After Rafael Nadal bowed out of the US Open at the fourth-round stage, Eurosport expert Mats Wilander declared it a “miracle” the Spaniard has won two Grand Slams this year.
Nadal fell to an inspired Frances Tiafoe at Flushing Meadows, with a maiden Grand Slam champion now guaranteed after Carlos Alcaraz downed 2014 winner Marin Cilic.
For Nadal, it was his earliest exit – and only loss – at a major in 2022, having won the Australian Open and French Open before withdrawing ahead of the Wimbledon semi-finals due to injury.
The 36-year-old played just the one warm-up tournament before the US Open due to his recovery from an abdominal tear, and Wilander conceded Nadal – who admitted he may take a break – was not quite at 100 per cent in New York.
“It looked like Rafa was either a little bit slow, or it could be that it is very difficult to read Frances Tiafoe’s game,” Wilander said.
“When you look at [Nadal’s second-round opponent] Fabio Fognini and Tiafoe, both their forehands are hit with an extremely short and quick back swing. We have to remember though that Rafa hasn’t played enough tennis.
“It is a miracle that he has won two Grand Slams this year and reaching the semis at Wimbledon. If you look at his year, with the regular season he had he actually won two Grand Slams – that’s unbelievable. It wasn’t expected, but I think the players know when Rafa isn’t quite at 100 per cent level.”
Fellow Eurosport pundit and two-time Grand Slam finalist Alex Corretja believes Nadal did not have the energy to overcome a rampant Tiafoe.
“Honestly, I don’t think physically Rafa was at his best,” said Corretja. “Somehow, he didn’t have enough energy he needed to get behind the ball and to dictate. He was struggling, he was getting a little late to the ball and when you are playing someone like Tiafoe that is pushing so much, it’s so bad.
“I don’t know if he had any issue or not or just that Tiafoe was just playing too fast and he was uncomfortable. Apparently the humidity at the beginning of the match caused him some troubles, I don’t know whether he was sweating too much, he took a medical time out, but of course I felt like Rafa lacked a little bit of power in a way today.”
Nadal is in contention to return to No. 1 in the world after the US Open, although that will depend on how quarter-finalists Alcaraz and Casper Ruud fare at Flushing Meadows, with that pair the only ones who can deny Nadal the top ranking.
Set to play the Laver Cup later this month, Nadal will soon have to thrash out his year-end plans with the ATP Tour Finals on the way as well.
Off the court, Nadal is set to become a father for the first time with wife Mery Perello, and hinted that he had been experiencing “mental issues” in the last couple of months.
Corretja added: “He didn’t play too many matches during the summertime and he needs a little more confidence in the matches. As you go on and play, you feel a little more smoother on the court.
“In my opinion, Rafa now needs to think about what he wants for the future because we are at the beginning of September, finishing number one is important but he might save energy. I don’t think he’ll play more than two or three tournaments for the rest of the year.
“For me, it was a miracle that Rafa was able to win in Australia and at Roland-Garros so what can we say? He’s our icon, he’s the best example of our sport, and if he lost today, Frances needed to play unbelievable because he gave everything he had.”