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Rafa • Rafael Nadal bows out of Citi Open ATP Tennis In Washington D.C. at the hands of Lloyd Harris

Rafael Nadal from Spain reacts as he plays against Lloyd Harris from South Africa during their third round men’s singles match of the Citi Open ATP tennis tournament at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in Washington, DC, USA, 05 August 2021. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO.

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal’s first term in the District of Columbia did not last long–two matches to be exact.

Making his debut appearance at the Citi Open, Nadal lost to Lloyd Harris 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 during third-round action on Thursday night. Harris needed two hours and 10 minutes to secure the biggest win of his career.

Nadal was fortunate just to be in the third round after surviving a scare in his opening match on Wednesday. The 35-year-old Spaniard was still plagued by the foot injury that hobbled him at the French Open, and he also had to deal with an inspired Jack Sock. Although Sock briefly had all of the momentum after taking the second set and leading by a break in the third, Nadal battled back to prevail 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(1) after three hours and four minutes.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion clearly moved better on Thursday. But if his foot was no longer a significant problem, his opponent most definitely was. Harris struck 16 aces, won 76 percent of his first-serve points, and won 55 percent of his second-serve return points.

Nadal seemed to turn the contest completely around when he issued a breadstick in the second set, but Harris was quick to recover in the decider. The 24-year-old South African crucially saved two break points for a 1-0 lead and fought off another at 2-2. He survived another deuce game at 3-3 before holding easily at 4-4, thus forcing Nadal to serve to stay in the match. The top seed led 30-15 at 4-5 only to see Harris reel off the next three points in succession. A brilliant clinching point saw the world No. 50 produce a forehand lob winner.

Lloyd Harris from South Africa (R) shakes hands with Rafael Nadal (L) from Spain after Harris upset him in their third round men’s singles match of the Citi Open ATP tennis tournament at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in Washington, DC, USA, 05 August 2021. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

“It’s amazing to play a player of his caliber out here,” Harris assured. “And to beat him is a very special moment in my career; probably the best win I’ve ever had. To have it in front of all these fans makes it so much better.”

The fans won’t get to see any more of the biggest name in tournament history, but the fact that there was improvement in Nadal’s physical state bodes well for the rest of the hard-court summer.

“I was ready,” the world No. 3 commented. “The most positive thing is my foot was better today than yesterday, so that’s the best news possible. I played against a player that played well. I played better than yesterday, but in the third set when I had opportunities the truth is his serve was huge and I played the last game really bad.

“So that’s the sport. You can’t have mistakes in the key moments, and in the key moments I think in the last game I was a little bit more nervous. My serve was not working the proper way. And that’s it. Well done for him. It’s a great victory for him.

“The most painful thing is not to be able to be on court tomorrow in front of this amazing crowd.”

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.