Borna Coric spoiled the return of Rafael Nadal after a five-year absence from the ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters on Wednesday with a 7-6 (11/9), 4-6, 6-3 upset victory in the second round.
The 36-year-old Spaniard, who won the Cincinnati title in 2013, was playing his first match in well over a month after withdrawing with an abdominal injury from his Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios.
“When you come back from injury, if you win the first match things get better,” Nadal said. “That was not the case today.”
Nadal began the season with three titles and 20 consecutive wins but will head into the US Open after only one summer hardcourt match.
“This tournament was difficult for me. He played better,” Nadal said. “It’s difficult to take a lot of positive things from this match.
“I need to practice. I need to return better. That’s the truth.”
The night appearance by the 22-time Grand Slam champion was interrupted for an hour and a quarter by rain in the opening set.
Once back, the pair struggled into a first-set tie-breaker which lasted for well over a quarter of an hour.
Nadal missed on two set points of his own and had to save two set points for Coric.
But on the Croat’s third opportunity, Nadal handed over the set after an hour and a quarter on court with a costly double-fault.
“I had chances in the tiebreaker and I played terrible on two easy set points,” Nadal said.
Nadal then took another 75 minutes to square the match thanks to a break in the seventh game of the second set.
The Spaniard was broken to trail 2-4 on a forehand wide, opening the door for Coric, who finished off the victory in just under three hours.
“It was very very special,” said Coric, who had shoulder surgery last year. “I’ve been out the last two years injured. I didn’t play on the big stage.
“I was looking forward to playing this match. It was all kind of crazy I would say.”
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