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Nadal eyes French Open bid despite early Rome exit

Rafael Nadal said Saturday that he is leaning towards playing at the upcoming French Open despite being eliminated in the second round in Rome, 6-1, 6-3 by Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz.

Clay-court icon Nadal had previously said that he would only play at the French Open, where he has won a record 14 titles, if he feels competitive after a raft of injury problems over the last two years which have left him languishing 305th in the world rankings.

And the manner of his elimination in his first ever encounter with Hurkacz was a step backwards after reaching the last 16 in Madrid, leaving a question mark hanging over his plans.

“The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today. But if I have to say what’s my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I going to say be in Roland Garros and try my best,” Nadal told reporters. 

“Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say not playing in the most important event of my tennis career. Let’s see what’s going on, how I feel myself mentally tomorrow, after tomorrow, and in one week.”

Nadal held his own in the first two games in the first set, which took 26 minutes to complete, but then fell away as errors handed Hurkacz points.

The 37-year-old twice gave away breaks of serve with miscued drop shots in the first set which Hurkacz closed out in 49 minutes as he blew through five straight games.

And the match was as good as done when Hurkacz, who didn’t drop a single service game, broke Nadal in the third game of the second set to set up a famous victory.

The level of dominance over Nadal on clay, much less a court where he has won a record 10 titles, would have been unimaginable a few short years ago. 

Hurkacz will face Tomas Etcheverry in the third round after likely ending Nadal’s love affair with Rome as the 22-time Grand Slam winner looks set to call time on his career at the end of the season.

However tournament organisers told media that Nadal turned down a post-match farewell celebration on court as Saturday’s loss was likely his last appearance at the Foro Italico.

Nadal said that he was “98 percent, not 100 percent” sure that he would never again grace the Roman clay so would not accept the ceremony.

Nadal’s departure will be followed on centre court by second seed Daniil Medvedev, who kicks off his title defence against Briton Jack Draper before women’s third seed Coco Gauff takes on lucky loser Jaqueline Cristian.

Swiatek battles through

Iga Swiatek fought past Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-4 to reach the last 16 of the women’s tournament.

World number one Swiatek will next face either Angelique Kerber or Aliaksandra Sasnovich as she bids to become the first person since Serena Williams to claim a third title at the Foro Italico.

The 22-year-old came into the event having won the Madrid Open last weekend and will also be gunning for a fourth French Open crown later this month.

She made harder work than expected of Saturday’s match after comfortably taking the first set, finding herself 4-1 down and having to save four break points to stop unseeded Puntintseva from serving for the second.

However Swiatek broke back before levelling the set and rattled off five games in a row to take her record against Puntintseva to four wins without dropping a set.

I’m happy with the way I played… I knew what I wanted to improve. At the end I’m happy that I finished in two sets,” said Swiatek.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Noami Osaka is also in the last 16 after beating 10th-seed Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-3 in the Grand Stand Arena. 

Osaka is ranked at 173 in the world after taking a break from the tour to have her first child but is in good form, yet to drop a set in her first Rome tournament in three years.

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