There were times when it became clear that Rafael Nadal had not competed in almost two months. His serve was erratic. Two consecutive shots were left at the net, leading to a break.
But in other episodes of the match, it was also possible to see why Nadal has won 20 Grand Slam titles.
The Spaniard won 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (1) over local Jack Sock on Wednesday in a duel at the Washington Open that required more than three hours to define.
“The game has not been easy,” Nadal acknowledged. “I have begun to suffer a little or too much.”
Before 7,500 spectators who turned out to witness Nadal’s debut in the competition on hard courts, the best play was an act of magic. With his back to the net, Nadal hit the ball between his legs, in the first set.
He beat a fist in the air in celebration, as his followers cheered. That way he covered every corner of the court and the winner after a drop by Sock in the tiebreaker made up the problems apparently derived from a foot injury that Nadal recently revealed.
The Mallorcan said that this ailment was what kept him from Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics. He hadn’t wielded a racket for three weeks.
Nadal (1st seed) had not played since losing to Novak Djokovic in the semi-final of the French Open on June 11.
Also on Wednesday, Dan Evans missed his first meeting on the Tour since testing positive for COVID-19 last month and missing the Tokyo Olympics.
The British tennis player, who ranks 27th in the world rankings and was sixth seed at the Washington Open, fell 7-6 (1), 6-0 to Brandon Nakashima in this hard-court tournament on Wednesday.
“It was very strange to play again. Probably too soon for a week or two. But I decided to go out, practice and get used to the conditions, “said Evans, who had not played since July, when he was eliminated in the third round at Wimbledon.
“It was hard knowing how I would feel. It has been difficult to get back in shape. I had very strong symptoms, “he said. “I was out of shape, I think for 14 or 20 days. It was not the best in the world, but it is what it is ”.
Evans, who advanced directly to the second round in Washington, said he had received a dose of the vaccine before falling ill. The second dose was delayed because he contracted the coronavirus.
Nakashima, who turned 20 on Tuesday, has won 10 of his last 12 games, all on hard court. His triumphs include finals in Los Cabos and Atlanta. This helped it rise to 89th in the world rankings.
Nakashima’s next game in the US Open prep tournament will be a third-round matchup between the Americans against Denis Kudla, who edged out Taylor Fritz (10th seed) 6-4, 6-2.
Another American edged out a favorite. Steve Johnson rallied to beat Australian Alex de Miñaur (3rd) 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2.
Like Evans, de Miñaur missed the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19.
In another match, 11th-seeded John Millman edged Elias Ymer, who was coming from the qualifying round, 6-2, 7-6 (8). (AP)