Nadal Sinks Sock In Washington Thriller
Rafael Nadal survived a Jack Sock onslaught on Wednesday night as he overcame a stern three-set test in the opening match of his Citi Open debut. The top seed saw off the resurgent former World No. 8 before a packed Stadium Court crowd, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(1).
In a battle between two of the heaviest top-spun forehands, Nadal was forced to work overtime to dig himself back from a break down in the third set as he prevailed after three hours and five minutes. Nadal had not played since a gruelling Roland Garros semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic in June and not on hard court since he fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets in the Australian Open quarter-finals in February.
Between 2015 and 2017, Nadal and Sock had squared off five times and while the American had taken sets in three of those encounters – including the fourth round at Roland Garros 2015 – this match ultimately went the way of all their previous ATP Head2Head encounters. Victory set a showdown with South African Lloyd Harris for a place in the quarter-finals.
A year ago, the Citi Open was planned to mark the resumption of the ATP Tour following the suspension of professional tennis in March. After its subsequent cancellation, this showdown before a packed house marked the ultimate return.
“It was a tough match and I managed to find a way at the end. Sorry for Jack,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “The energy here in Washington has been unforgettable after such a tough year and a half.
“Getting to play in front of these great people is just fantastic. I enjoyed it, I suffered a little bit but it's normal. I hope to be ready for tomorrow.”
Sock, who required a wild card to take his place in the main draw, returned to the Top 200 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday for the first time since 2019, following right thumb and back injuries. The 28-year-old showed a return to the shot-making that took him to the Top 10 and the Nitto ATP Finals in 2017, as he landed a crucial break for 4-3 on his way to levelling the match at a set apiece after one hour and 47 minutes.
The American looked to have gained the ascendency when he held a 3-1 advantage in the third set. Nadal was not finding any consistent rhythm as he was struggling to deal with his opponent’s deep forehand returns and surrendered the early break in the third set.
Nadal – in his first match back from a foot injury – did appear troubled and his movement less explosive in the deciding set, but as he so often has managed, the Spaniard somehow found a way to edge his way back into the contest. The pair finished level on 41 winners each – Nadal with 17 off his forehand, Sock with 28 off the same wing. Nadal’s 17 unforced errors, however, were 16 fewer than his opponent’s.
“Well it felt fantastic. For these kind of things we still play,” Nadal said. “Of course for us playing without a crowd is the least important thing that we are facing in the last year and a half [with] a lot of people dying, a lot of people suffering.
“Still this fire is still there… At least we're able to play with some crowd so that makes a difference for us and that gives us some positive vibes to keep going.”