US Open 2022: Nadal saves a night of anxiety | Sports

The night has everything. It’s a bad, ugly and bumpy game. You work everywhere. Rafael Nadal has looked into the abyss, but as he almost always ends up dodging it (the logic of his extraordinary career) to access the third round, in which an old acquaintance awaits him this Saturday, the Frenchman Richard Gasquet. Earlier he has beaten Fabio Fognini and he sighs of relief because there is a very fine line from nightmare to salvation: 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and 6-1, after 2h 43m. No half measures: for an hour and a half he has had one foot out of the tournament.

Alarms go off fast. Nadal stands rooted to the spot, arms akimbo as he looks at his box in search of those answers that do not arrive. “Don’t worry, it will come out,” his technician, Carlos Moyà, tries to reassure him. However, the Spaniard finds no consolation and moves from one side to the other nervously, erratically, unable to keep up with a Fognini who is better off not risking too much in the blow to secure points and gain ground. The Mallorcan’s error counter is triggered –26 in the first two sets, a completely anomalous figure in his case– until an even more worrying signal arrives: “I’m very anxious”.

Nadal plays short, moves poorly. He doesn’t feel the ball and is late for all supports. That is, Nadal is not Nadal. He glances back at his bench as he gives up the first set and false starts the second, serving again – five times in the first two sets – and giving off a more than worrisome feeling. It is true that Fognini, the man who managed to lift him two sets in 2015 on this same court, he chokes from time to time and knows how to tickle it, but on this occasion the Italian just knows how to take advantage of inertia. He is very comfortable in San Remo, dosing placidly and surprised by the collapse of his rival.

The match takes on such a color that another type of buzz, different from the usual, begins to spread in the New York headquarters. There are those who begin to imagine the tournament without Nadal, groggy and lackluster, as if he really had stayed in the locker room. “For an hour or an hour and a half he was not competing”, he admits in the parliament at the foot of the track, after a strange script twist that includes the fainting and injury of his rival. That is to say, once again, the Balearic Islands have been successful. “It’s one of the worst starts ever, probably. But it is part of the game. They have not been easy months for me”, adds the champion of 22 majors. Essential nuance the latter.

Nadal speaks with a plaster on his nose, where he has caused a cut when trying to return a backhand; the subsequent bounce of the racket head against the asphalt follows the sequence of misfortune of the entire evening: first the anxiety, then a blister on the index finger and then the mishap, the confusion, the medical attention. “He was a bit dizzy at first, it’s been a bit painful. It had happened to me with a golf club, but not with a racket,” he explains.

“Now is another opportunity for me, staying alive after a match like this means a lot,” he continues. “If you get frustrated you’re not going to find a solution, so I’ve thought the match is long and I’ve stayed positive. Honestly, I was lucky when Fabio made mistakes in the second set. [60 al final, por los 37 del ganador]; I have been able to win it and then things have been more normal, but, of course, it has not been a good match”, he concludes.

For a while, Nadal has walked a fine cornice. Set down, 2-4 behind in the second and bad feelings. However, he ends up finding a savior in Fognini himself, always prone to dispersion. The Italian pardons, concedes four consecutive games –nine breaks against in his final account – and the match changes color. He has to be treated for an ailment in his right ankle, bandaged, and ends up giving himself up in a night of misery for both of them. Or quite the opposite, perhaps he interprets the Balearic. The trick, he says, is to not stop believing.

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