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Rafael Nadal overpowered by Hubert Hurkacz at Italian Open

Rafael Nadal overpowered by Hubert Hurkacz at Italian Open

ROME — There was no doubting Rafael Nadal’s commitment and desire during his first meeting with a top-10 player in 1½ years.

Nadal’s surgically repaired hip and his 37-year-old legs just didn’t provide him with the necessary means to be competitive enough on Saturday as ninth-ranked Hubert Hurkacz overpowered the 22-time Grand Slam champion on the Spaniard’s beloved clay for a 6-1, 6-3 victory in the third round of the Italian Open.

Nadal, who is still regaining his fitness after missing nearly all of 2023 with a hip injury that required surgery, appeared slow at times and lacked the lucidness to finish off points.

Twice in the first set, Nadal missed drop shot attempts to hand Hurkacz breaks of his serve.

Then early in the second set, Nadal lacked oomph on a backhand volley, allowing Hurkacz to reply with a forehand up the line that clipped the net and landed in for another break.

On the changeovers, Nadal sat hunched over, sweat dripping from his headband and deep in thought for solutions that he couldn’t find.

Now, Nadal will need to dig deeper on the practice court if wants to be competitive one last time at the French Open, where he is the record 14-time champion. Roland Garros starts on May 26.

Nadal has indicated this will be his final season on tour and fans inside Campo Centrale tried to encourage the record 10-time Rome champion with chants of “Ole Ole Ole, Ra-fa, Ra-fa.”

Nadal hadn’t faced a top-10 player since beating No. 4 Casper Ruud at the 2022 ATP Finals.

Meanwhile, top-ranked Novak Djokovic said he was “fine” after accidentally getting knocked on the head by a water bottle while signing autographs after his opening win on Friday.

But Djokovic wasn’t taking any further chances when he showed up at the Foro Italico for practice on Saturday, putting on a biking helmet when he met with fans again.

Second-ranked Jannik Sinner and third-ranked Carlos Alcaraz both withdrew before the tournament because of injuries.

In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Iga Swiatek beat Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-4 for her eighth consecutive win.

Swiatek trailed 4-1 in the second set but then won five straight games after saving four break points to hold for 2-4.

“I needed to get my focus together,” Swiatek said. “I know that I can play good tennis because I did it in the first set. So I just wanted to come back to being solid and really work for the points, because, she’s really changing the rhythm, so it’s not easy to play against her.”

Having won…

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