Rafael Nadal said it was “hard to accept a lot of positive things” as his return from injury ended in second round defeat at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
After withdrawing from Wimbledon last month with a stomach ache, Nadal returned to action on Wednesday, losing 7-6 4-6 6-3 to Croatian Borna Ćorić in a match that lasted nearly three hours.
He will now look ahead to the US Open at the end of the month, where he will aim for his fifth Flushing Meadows crown and 23rd overall Grand Slam title.
“The most important thing for me is to stay healthy,” Nadal told reporters. “It was a difficult injury to deal with, to be honest.
“The past month and a half hasn’t been easy because with a tear in the gut you don’t know when (you’ll be) 100 percent over the thing, so that hits me a bit in terms of not (sure if you’re capable of to do your best in every service.”
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Nadal had two set points in the first set tiebreak but failed to convert either one, including when he fired a forehand volley wide before a double foul gave Ćorić an early lead in the match.
The Spaniard fought back in the second set to even the game, but Ćorić broke into the decider at 3-2 and saw off the set to claim his third win over Nadal in five encounters.
Ćorić, who was absent for more than a year after undergoing shoulder surgery in May 2021, finished the match with 39 winners and will face another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, in the third round.
“It’s hard to accept a lot of positive things, but I have to improve,” Nadal said.
“I have to practice. I have to come back better. I need days (on court), and that’s the truth. Of course I had my chances in the beginning. In the tiebreak I had two important chances with two set points that I played terribly with two more or less easy shots.”
Nadal’s last US Open title came in 2019, and since then he has racked up three more Grand Slam victories to surpass Roger Federer at the top of the all-time men’s list.
This year’s tournament in New York starts on August 29.