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Rafael Nadal cut himself on the bridge of his nose with his own racket when it bounced off the field on the follow-through of a shot, leaving him bloodied and dizzy in his second round victory at the US Open.
The game was delayed about five minutes during a medical timeout in the fourth set of what would become a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 win against Fabio Fognini at Arthur Ashe Stadium in a match that Thursday night started and ended after midnight on Friday.
It made for a bizarre and equally scary scene, when Nadal immediately grimaced, dropped his racket, placed a palm in front of his face and then placed both hands on his head. At least Nadal was able to joke about it afterwards during his interview at the court.
When asked if he’d ever experienced that before, he chuckled and replied, “With a golf club, but not with a tennis racket.”
How did he feel?
“Well, a little dizzy at first,” said Nadal, who won four of his 22 Grand Slam titles at the US Open, most recently in 2019, the last time he competed in the hard court tournament. “A little painful.”
The episode came on the first point of the match with Nadal leading 3-0 in the fourth set and clearly in charge after relinquishing the opening set for the second game in a row this week.
The 36-year-old from Spain moved to the right when he hit a backhand. After making contact with the ball, his racket bounced off the ground and hit him on the nose.
He went to the sidelines and lay down, waiting for the trainer, and Fognini went to Nadal to check. After getting a bandage on his nose, Nadal resumed the game. He would lose that match, but not another, and improve to 21–0 in Grand Slam matches in 2022.
Nadal won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June for his 14th title there, then reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in July before the belly issue forced him to withdraw (which doesn’t go down in the books as a loss).
The match against Fognini, who defeated him at the 2015 US Open, didn’t start well for Nadal. His shots were out and he soon came behind.
“I didn’t participate for more than an hour and a half,” Nadal said. “One of the worst starts, probably ever.”
The second set was hardly anything of beauty for both men, filled with poor play from both: they combined for 39 unforced errors and only nine winners, seven service breaks and only three holdups.
“Honestly, I was lucky that Fabio made some mistakes in that second set,” Nadal acknowledged.
When Nadal dumped a backhand into the net, Fognini broke through with a 3-2 lead and went on to lead 4-2. But from there it was Fognini who faltered and missed four shots in a row to be broken in love as part of a four game run by Nadal to make it a set.
In the third, Nadal came up with a particularly perfect shot – a forehand on the run that diverted an overhead from Fognini and sent it down the line for a winner to break for 4-2. Nadal’s thrust brought him to the edge of the grandstand, where thousands had gathered, and he slammed into the air, shouting, “Vamos!”
Not long after, that set also belonged to Nadal, and he would collect 16 of the last 19 games.