Rafael Nadal overpowered by Hubert Hurkacz in Italian Open third round

Rafael Nadal was overpowered 6-1, 6-3 by Hubert Hurkacz at the Italian Open on Saturday in the Spaniard’s first meeting with a top-10 player for 18 months.

The 22-times grand slam winner brought his usual commitment and desire but was unable to compete physically against his opponent, ranked ninth in the world. Nadal, still regaining fitness after hip surgery, appeared slow at times and lacked the clinical edge to finish off points in this third-round encounter.

Twice in the first set, Nadal missed drop shot attempts to hand Hurkacz breaks of serve as the Pole raced to a 6-1 success. 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.

Nadal has indicated this will be his final season on tour and fans inside Campo Centrale tried to rouse the record 10-times Rome champion, but to no avail. The 37-year-old was unable to find a way back into the match, and will need to find more on the practice court to be ready for the French Open, which starts on 26 May.

“I am proud of myself because playing Rafa is special,” said Hurkacz after prevailing in his first match against Nadal. “It is just different, especially on clay, the surface he has dominated for the past 20 years. No-one will ever have a record like him on this surface, so he is bigger than the sport.”

Hurkacz will next face the No 25 seed, Tomás Etcheverry, who eliminated Thiago Seyboth Wild 6-3, 7-5. Nicolas Jarry saved seven set points in the second set to overcome home hopeful Matteo Arnaldi 6-2, 7-6 (6). The Serbian qualifier Hamad Medjedovic beat 30th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic said he was “fine” after being hit on the head by a falling water bottle while signing autographs after his opening win over Corentin Moutet on Friday. The world No 1 returned to the Foro Italico for practice on Saturday – but wore a bicycle helmet while talking to fans.

Iga Swiatek had to find another gear to defeat Yulia Putintseva inside two sets. Photograph: Fabio Frustaci/EPA

Iga Swiatek described Nadal as her “idol” after she defeated Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-4 for her eighth consecutive win. The world No 1 trailed 4-1 in the second set but saved four break points to make it 4-2 and then reeled off five straight games to seal victory.

“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 … she [Putintseva] really changes the rhythm, so it’s not easy to play against her.”

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“He’s a huge inspiration,” Swiatek said of Nadal. “He’s basically the only idol I ever had in my life. So it’s great that he’s back to play some tennis.” Having won the Madrid Open last week, the Pole is aiming to win the first women’s “dirt double” since Serena Williams in 2013.

Angelique Kerber will be Swiatek’s last-16 opponent after the German defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 7-6 (4), while Naomi Osaka continued her comeback with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-3 win over the No 10 seed, Daria Kasatkina.

Elsewhere in the women’s draw, Paula Badosa rallied past Diana Shnaider 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the fourth round at a WTA 1000 event for the first time since her quarter-final appearance in Rome last year.

The Guardian

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