Nadal struggles with foot injury in Italian Open defeat

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Iga Swiatek of Poland returns the ball to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, Thursday May 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

AP

Just 10 days before the French Open, Rafael Nadal is struggling again with an injury.

Nadal was hampered by a foot problem towards the end of a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 third-round loss to Denis Shapovalov at Thursday’s Italian Open.

At one point, Nadal, 35, walked over and leaned on his towel box, grimacing in obvious pain. He also hobbled between points.

Nadal missed a large part of last year with a left foot injury.

“I hurt my foot again with a lot of pain,” said Nadal. “I’m a player living with an injury. It’s nothing new. Unfortunately, it is something that is there. Day after day is difficult.

It was a worrying scene for Nadal – especially with the French Open starting on May 22nd.

“What can happen in the next few days I don’t know,” said Nadal, who has won Roland Garros a record 13 times. “I really don’t know what can happen in a week.”

Nadal returned to the tour last week after suffering a stress fracture in his rib that kept him away for six weeks after a blistering start to the year that included his record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

“I sometimes find it difficult to accept the situation,” said Nadal. “Can be frustrating not being able to practice properly a lot of days.”

Nadal was also beaten by 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open last week.

Nadal double faulted twice and then missed a long backhand to give Shapovalov a break of serve and the second set. Shapovalov then took complete control as he won 14 straight points late in the third.

“It’s definitely tough to see him there in pain at the end,” said Shapovalov, who will face Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals. “I never want to see that, especially with a big legend like Rafa. … He brings so much to our sport. Hopefully he is fit and ready for the French.”

Nadal, who has won the Italian Open a record ten times, said his foot started hurting midway through the second set, adding: “Then (it) wasn’t playable for me.”

Earlier, top-seeded Novak Djokovic had no trouble in a 6-2, 6-2 win over Stan Wawrinka, who was only playing his second tournament after undergoing left foot surgery.

Djokovic, a five-time Rome champion, next plays Felix Auger-Aliassime, who ended American qualifier Marcos Giron’s run in a 6-3, 6-2 win. It will be the first meeting between Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime.

On the women’s side, top-seeded Iga Swiatek was put to the test before reaching the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-1 win over former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, extending her winning streak to 25 games.

Azarenka took a 3-0 lead before Swiatek won five straight games in a grueling first set that lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes.

“My first serve didn’t work properly,” said Swiatek. “But I’m glad I was able to win kind of ugly in the first set and then improve in the second. It gives me the confidence that I can win games even if my game isn’t 100% good.”

Swiatek is trying to win her fifth tournament in a row and defend her title in Rome.

The last player to win more consecutive games was Serena Williams, who had a 27-straight streak in 2014 and 2015.

“(The streak) doesn’t matter to me because every game is different,” Swiatek said. “I struggled in many games this season even though I won them. Everything can happen. Every game is a different story.”

Swiatek’s run makes her a favorite to win a second French Open when the second Grand Slam of the year begins in 10 days. When Swiatek won at Roland Garros in 2020, she was ranked 54th – making her the lowest-ranked woman to win the Paris Major in the Open era.

In a sign of how difficult it was for Swiatek to hold serve on the red clay court at the Foro Italico, she played more than twice as many points on her serve as Azarenka – 98 to 47.

Azarenka was shaken when a spectator entered the front row of the mostly empty VIP area right behind her as she faced a break point late in the first set. Then, when she double faulted to give Swiatek control of the set, she lashed out with her racquet in frustration and complained to the chair umpire about the mid-game stoppage.

Swiatek next meets 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, who eliminated Croatian qualifier Petra Martic 6-4, 6-4.

The biggest celebration of the day was for Jannik Sinner, the 20-year-old Italian, who reached the quarter-finals for the first time at his home tournament against Filip Krajinovic 6-2, 7-6 (6).

Sinner next meets Stefanos Tsitsipas who saw off Karen Khachanov 4-6 6-0 6-3 to claim the 29th win of the year.

Also, 2017 Rome champion Alexander Zverev, who also reaches the final in Madrid, beat Alex De Minaur 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Zverev, still chasing his first title of the year, has his father and trainer Alexander back with him at the circuit after a lengthy absence for reasons the family has kept personally.

When Zverev won the ATP Finals in November, his older brother and professional colleague Mischa trained him.

“I’ve been missing a coach for six months,” said Zverev. “That was missing.”

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More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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