Rafael Nadal, who has not competed since his shattering French Open semifinal loss against Novak Djokovic, will kickstart his North American hard-court swing in the United States capital on Wednesday. In his debut appearance at the Citi Open, the Spaniard will take on American Jack Sock in his tournament opener as he prepares the US Open.
Citing short turnaround time and fatigue, the 20-time Major champion skipped Wimbledon and the Olympics. However, after much-needed rest and some time off from the game, the 35-year-old appears to be rejuvenated and ready to go through the grinds of the tour yet again.
Nadal is the top seed at Citi Open. His participation alone has drawn ample buzz and excitement amongst tennis fans around the town.
Rafael Nadal vs Jack Sock
In his Round of 64 encounter, Jack Sock lost the first set against Yoshihito Nishioka 6-7(3), but a calf injury forced the Japanese to withdraw. He trailed the American 0-4 in the second set before ending the match.
Nadal leads Sock 5-0 in their head-to-head tally so far, and three of those five wins have come on hard courts. Considering the gulf between their rankings, skill levels, and experience, one cannot imagine that to change here.
While Nadal has struggled on the faster hard courts in Australia, the relatively slower hard courts of the North American hard-court swing have traditionally suited his style of play. His results attest this fact, as the Spaniard has won four US Open titles, five Canada Masters titles, and a title at the Cincinnati Masters. He clearly relishes playing during summers in North America.
While Sock might have an ordinary record in singles, the 28-year-old is an amazing doubles player and plays with finesse at the net. If well-executed, his net game can cause Nadal plenty of problems, since Nadal typically likes to play from well behind the baseline. In order to upset Nadal’s rhythm, the American can pepper Spaniard’s backhand wing with the power of his forehand, and then can close out the point with his amazing skills at the net.
Sock enjoys hard courts the most of all the surfaces, but has had lackluster form for a few years now. On the other hand, Nadal is making a comeback on the tour after a break of nearly two months. Nadal will be looking forward to starting his hard-court swing on a positive note. He last won a hard-court tournament one-and-a-half years ago, at the Acapulco Open in February 2020.
Nadal in 2021
The 2021 season has been an indifferent one for the Spaniard so far. A back injury prevented him from playing in the opening months of the season, except the Australian Open. He lost in the quarterfinals there, and lost thrice on clay as well, including the loss to Djokovic in the French Open semifinals. On that backdrop, Nadal would be more than eager to turn around his season. A title triumph in Washington can set the tone for the Spaniard in the lead-up to the final Slam of the year.
Jack Sock might be a tricky opponent for the Spaniard in his comeback opener, but Nadal should have enough to get past his American challenger. We can’t wait to witness the 35-year-old veteran back in action at the North American hard-court swing, after he skipped last year’s swing due to the global pandemic.
Main Photo from Getty.