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Rafael Nadal overpowered in Rome, unsure about French Open

ROME — Fifteen days before he is scheduled to play in what will likely be his final French Open, Rafael Nadal is so unsatisfied with his level of tennis that he is still debating whether to go to Roland Garros.

Nadal’s surgically repaired hip and 37-year-old legs didn’t provide him with the necessary means to be competitive enough Saturday as ninth-ranked Hubert Hurkacz overwhelmed the 22-time Grand Slam champion on the Spaniard’s beloved clay for a 6-1, 6-3 victory in the third round of the Italian Open.

It was Nadal’s first match against a top-10 player in 1½ years, and he couldn’t have been more disappointed.

“Tough day for me in all ways because I felt more ready than what I showed,” Nadal said. “I am little bit more unpredictable today, not playing enough for the last two years. Too many doubts.”

In terms of games won, it was the most lopsided loss for Nadal on clay in 21 years since also winning only four games against Gaston Gaudio in Hamburg in 2003 when he was 16.

Now Nadal will need to dig deeper on the practice court if wants to be competitive one last time at the French Open, where he is the record 14-time champion. Roland Garros starts May 26.

Nadal said he had two options for Paris.

“One is to say, ‘OK, I am not ready, I am not playing enough well,'” Nadal said. “Another is accept how I am today and work the proper way to try to be in a different way in two weeks.

“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. Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say not playing in the most important event of my tennis career.”

Nadal is still regaining his fitness after missing nearly all of 2023 with a hip injury that required surgery,

“Let’s see what’s going on, how I feel myself mentally tomorrow, after tomorrow and in one week,” Nadal said. “If I feel ready, I going to try to be there and fight for the things that I have been fighting the last 15 years, if now seems impossible.”

Against the big-serving Hurkacz, Nadal appeared slow at times and lacked the lucidness to finish off points. Twice in the first set, Nadal missed drop shot attempts to hand Hurkacz breaks of his serve.

Then early in the second set, Nadal lacked oomph on a backhand volley, allowing Hurkacz to reply with a forehand up the line that clipped the net and landed in for another break.

On the changeovers, Nadal sat hunched over, sweat dripping from his headband and deep in thought for solutions that he couldn’t find.

Nadal has indicated this will be his final season on tour, and fans inside Campo Centrale tried to encourage the record 10-time Rome champion with chants of “Ole Ole Ole, Ra-fa, Ra-fa.”

Nadal hadn’t faced a top-10 player since beating No. 4 Casper Ruud at the 2022 ATP Finals.

He didn’t convert any of his seven break points and committed twice as many unforced errors as Hurkacz, 20-10. Hurkacz served nine aces to Nadal’s one.

After the match, Nadal declined to participate in a celebration of his career that local organizers had prepared.

Meanwhile, top-ranked Novak Djokovic said he was “fine” after accidentally getting knocked on the head by a water bottle while signing autographs after his opening win Friday.

But Djokovic wasn’t taking any further chances when he showed up at the Foro Italico for practice on Saturday, putting on a biking helmet when he met with fans again.

In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Iga Swiatek beat Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-4 for her eighth consecutive win.

Swiatek trailed 4-1 in the second set but then won five straight games after saving four break points to hold for 2-4.

“I needed to get my focus together,” Swiatek said. “I know that I can play good tennis because I did it in the first set. So I just wanted to come back to being solid and really work for the points, because, she’s really changing the rhythm, so it’s not easy to play against her.”

Having won the Madrid Open last week, Swiatek is attempting to become the first woman to win the “dirt double” since Serena Williams in 2013. She is already a two-time Rome champion.

Nadal was Swiatek’s role model.

“He’s a huge inspiration,” Swiatek said. “He’s basically the only idol I ever had in my life. So it’s great that he’s back to play some tennis.”

Also, Paula Badosa rallied past Diana Shnaider 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the fourth round at a WTA 1000 event for the first time since her quarterfinal appearance in Rome last year.

Hurkacz will next face 25th-seeded Tomas Etcheverry, who eliminated Thiago Seyboth Wild 6-3, 7-5.

Also advancing was 21st-seeded Nicolas Jarry, who saved seven set points in the second set to overcome Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi and a partisan crowd with a 6-2, 7-6 (6) win.

Serbian qualifier Hamad Medjedovic beat 30th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6 (4), 6-4.

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