The Spaniard was beaten in the final of the Indian Wells Masters by US underdog Taylor Fritz
Rafael Nadal’s unbeaten run ended in California. © Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
Rafael Nadal said he had difficulty breathing as his unbeaten start to 2022 came to an end in a shock defeat to America’s Taylor Fritz in the final of the Indian Wells Masters.
Nadal had won all 20 of his matches in a remarkable run to start the year, but that streak finished in California as Fritz saw off the Spanish veteran in straight sets, 6-3 7-6 (7-5), to earn a first Masters 1000 title.
“I had pain, honestly. I had problems breathing,” said a dejected Nadal after the loss. “I don’t know if it’s something on the rib, I don’t know yet. When I’m breathing, when I’m moving it’s like a needle all the time inside here. I get dizzy a little bit because it’s painful.
“It’s a kind of pain that limits me a lot. It’s not only about pain, I don’t feel very well because [it] affects my breathing.”
After returning from a lingering foot injury which forced him out of action for four months at the end of last year, Nadal had started the 2022 season in sensational form, going on a run that included winning the Australian Open as great rival Novak Djokovic was sidelined due to his unvaccinated status.
But against Fritz on Sunday, Nadal looked badly out of sorts as he racked up 34 unforced errors throughout the contest, leaving the court for treatment at 4-0 down in the opening set.
“[It is] more than [being] sad for the loss, [that is] something that I accepted immediately, and even before the match ended. It’s more about that I am suffering a little bit, honestly,” said Nadal.
“I tried my best. Of course, [it has] not been my day. But that happens. I have experience in all these situations. So in the moment, of course, it’s tough to play a final like this. [I] tried until the end. That’s it.”
Nadal found time to praise Fritz, a former junior world number one who became the first American to win the Indian Wells title since Andre Agassi in 2001.
“Even if it’s obvious that I was not able to do the normal things today… That’s it. It’s a final. I tried. I lost against a great player,” said Nadal.
© John Cordes / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Nadal’s stellar start to 2022 saw him clinch a record 21st Grand Slam crown and ATP titles in Melbourne and Mexico, with the Spanish icon rising to world number three in the renewed ATP rankings on Monday.
Daniil Medvedev’s three-week reign comes to an end as Novak Djokovic recaptured top spot, after the Russian exited in the third round at Indian Wells.
However, a run to the semifinals at the Miami Open, which begins on Monday, would see Medvedev move back to the pinnacle.
Djokovic has been forced to skip Indian Wells and Miami this month due to travel restrictions and his unvaccinated status, but is expected to return at the Monte-Carlo Masters in April and has been boosted by the news that he will likely be able to play at the French Open.
Nadal’s attentions will turn to the clay court season, where he will be fancied to contest a record-extending 14th French Open title when the Roland-Garros showpiece gets underway in May, although he admitted his struggles against Fritz had left him feeling “sad.”
“Honestly, I wanted to make it perfect before clay. [It] has been very, very, very beautiful. Honestly I am sad because the way I was not able to compete. It’s tough to have these feelings… But in the final it’s very, very ugly,” said Nadal.
“Now is the moment to try to solve this problem as soon as possible, try to start on clay. Practicing starts another part of the season that I enjoy to play. Of course, every single event is so special for me. I hope to be ready for it.”
The San Diego-born Fritz was jubilant at capturing the biggest crown of his career as he launches a push towards the top 10.
“This is seriously like a childhood dream come true, like a wild dream you never expect to actually happen. It really hasn’t even sunk in,” said the 24-year-old, who had feared that an ankle injury during his warm-up could even force him out of the final.
“A lot of members of my team wanted me to not play the match. I’m never going to let them forget that because I went on the court and it was a complete non-issue, didn’t feel it at all, didn’t hinder me at all,” added the American, who will rise to number 13 in the world and recaptures his position as the top men’s star in his country.