Injury concerns for Nadal after losing in the quarterfinals of his tour comeback at Brisbane

The 22-time major winner needed a medical timeout in the third set of his match to Jordan Thompson after failing to convert three match points in the second

Rafael Nadal and Jordan Thompson
Rafael Nadal of Spain (L) congratulates Jordan Thompson of Australia (R) for winning their quarter-final match at the 2024 Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, 05 January 2024.JONO SEARLE (EFE)

Rafael Nadal has concerns over his surgically repaired left hip just two wins and a loss into his comeback from a year-long injury layoff, and just over a week before the Australian Open.

The 22-time major winner needed a medical timeout in the third set of his Brisbane International quarterfinal loss to Jordan Thompson on Friday after failing to convert three match points in the second.

He miscued an overhead backhand on his first match point in the 10th game of the second set, about two hours into the contest. Then he missed consecutive forehands from 6-4 in the tiebreaker before No. 55-ranked Thompson rallied to win 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

“Sad in this moment because I had plenty of opportunities,” Nadal said. “I didn’t play bad, but I was just one ball away.”

With the Australian Open starting Jan. 14, Nadal’s rehabilitation from the hip injury and surgery that sidelined him for most of 2023 will be tested.

Of the injury, Nadal said it felt more like a muscle issue than the tendon problem that caused him so much trouble last year, and he was hopeful it was just fatigue and he’d be OK.

“I hope it is not important and I hope to have the chance to be practicing next week and to play in Melbourne,” he said. “Honestly, I am not 100% sure of anything now.”

He said the pain was in “a very similar place to what happened last year, but different stuff.”

“I mean, for sure is not the same like last year at all because when it happened last year, I felt something drastic immediately,” he said. “Today I didn’t feel anything. The only problem is because the place is the same, you are a little bit more scared than usual.”

The 37-year-old Spaniard opened the tournament with straight-sets wins over Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler but was pushed for 3 hours and 25 minutes by Thompson in what was his third match in four nights.

His energy level visibly waned at the start of the third set. And after Thompson broke in the fourth game and then held for a 4-1 lead, Nadal was assessed by the trainer for his upper left leg. He left the court for a medical timeout before returning and playing on another 20 minutes.

After sending a backhand long on match point to end the longest rally of the match, Nadal walked around the net to embrace Thompson. He blew a kiss and waved to the crowd as he walked off Pat Rafter Arena around midnight.

Thompson also got the upper hand in a doubles match last Sunday when he combined with Max Purcell to beat Nadal and Marc Lopez, the 2016 Olympic champions.

“Obviously he’s one of the best of all time, so there’s no pressure on me,” Thompson said. “But there’s always a sense of pressure playing at home, in front of an Aussie crowd. He can destroy an opponent, so there’s always that element that can make you nervous. But you still got to take it to him and play your own game.”

Thompson’s reward this time is a semifinal against second-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, a former Brisbane International champion.

Top-seeded Holger Rune had a 6-2, 7-6 (6) win over James Duckworth to set up a semifinal against Roman Safiullin, who beat Matteo Arnaldi 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Sabalenka extends winning streak

Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka will be on opposite sides of the net in the women’s semifinals almost five years after teaming up on the same court in a Fed Cup semifinal against Australia.

Australian Open champion Sabalenka ensured the matchup when she extended her winning streak Down Under to 14 with a 6-1, 6-4 win over fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina on Friday night.

She won a title in Adelaide last year before her Grand Slam breakthrough at Melbourne Park, the start of a 2023 season that also included a run to the U.S. Open final and the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon.

Sabalenka was utterly dominant in the first set of her night match in front of a Pat Rafter Arena crowd that included actor Jude Law, pinning Kasatkina on the baseline with her deep, powerful ground strokes.

She peeled off 32 winners and dropped just one service game in 1 1/2 hours.

Sabalenka and Azarenka have both won the Australian Open title and both have been ranked No. 1. They were both born in Minsk, Belarus, albeit about nine years apart, but have played only four times previously at the elite level. Sabalenka leads their head-to-head encounters 3-1.

“She’s an amazing player. I was growing watching her,” Sabalenka said of her 34-year-old compatriot. “It’s going to be great battle. I’m really looking forward for that.”

Azarenka, a two-time champion at both the Australian Open (2012 and ‘13) and in Brisbane (2009 and ‘16) , had a tougher run in the opening match of the day, needing 2 1/2 hours to advance 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 over a hot-and-bothered former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Second-seeded Elena Rybakina only needed to play seven games in her quarterfinal match.

Rybakina, who won Wimbledon in 2022 and was runner-up at the Australian Open last year, won the first set 6-1 before 11th-seeded Anastasia Potapova retired from their match with an abdominal injury. '

She’ll next play Linda Noskova, who beat 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva 7-5, 6-3.

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