Rafael Nadal admits he wasn’t back to full fitness as he was beaten by Borna Coric in a pulsating second round match at the Cincinnati Masters on his return to tennis.
Nadal was playing his first competitive match since withdrawing from his semi-final with Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon six weeks ago after suffering a 7mm tear to his abdominal muscle.
He had a chance to become world No. 1 if he won this week’s tournament in Cincinnati, but Coric was victorious with a 7-6(9) 4-6 6-3 win.
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"You lose, you move forward. I know the way," Nadal said. "The main thing for me is to stay healthy. It has been a difficult injury to manage, to be honest.
"The last month and a half hasn't been easy, because having a tear on the abdominal, you don't know when [you are] 100% over the thing.
“That affects a little bit in terms of not [being] sure if you are able to try your best in every serve.”
Nadal’s early exit raises questions about whether he can win the US Open for a fifth time and extend his lead in the ‘GOAT race’ as he currently sits on 22 Grand Slams, to Novak Djokovic’s 21 and Roger Federer’s 20.
The 36-year-old revealed he has played just two sets of tennis prior to his match with Coric and will have more time to prepare for the US Open, which takes place from August 29 to September 11.
"In terms of New York, it's a Grand Slam, a different kind of tournament," said Nadal.
"I was only able to play two sets before this match in the last 40 days.
"I know that to gain condition, I will have to be on the tour practising with the guys."
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Biggest win of Coric's career
Coric underwent shoulder surgery in March and dropped to 152 in the ATP rankings. However, he used his protected ranking to get into the main draw of the Cincinnati Masters.
It was the Croatian’s third career win against Nadal and the biggest of his 2022 season so far.
“It has been very, very special,” said Coric. “I was out for the last two years and I didn’t play on the big stage in front of the crowd and everybody.
“I was honestly just looking forward to playing this match as I haven’t had that in the last two years. Now that I won, it’s kind of crazy.”
Coric will face Roberto Bautista Agut on Thursday for a place in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati.
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