First he faced complications on the court, then he also experienced discomfort at the press conference. But he managed both fights with grace and insight. Rafael Nadal overturned a first-round match at the US Open, then defended himself against accusations that the umpires were more lenient with him in time-out situations.
Nadal’s attack on the twenty-third Grand Slam title, which would tie him in the historical tables with Serena Williams, did not start well.
The 198th ranked player in the world, the 21-year-old Australian Rinky Hijikata, benefited from the enormous energy directed at the court from the most extensive walkways in the tennis world. The big outsider on the Arthur Ashe court won the first set 6-4 and put the famous opponent under pressure.
Nadal managed the subsequent turn comfortably. He blunted Hijikata’s enthusiasm, allowing him only eight games over the next three sets.
“I didn’t play well on the serve, and I was a bit nervous. I played here in New York for the first time in three years, and in the evening program, that’s always full of excitement. I went through difficult moments,” admitted Nadal after the match.
“One has to be humble enough to go through the process and accept that it is necessary to fight and that it is necessary to suffer. And I succeeded. In two days I will hopefully play better,” he added.
His next opponent will be another experienced matador, the Italian Fabio Fognini.
Nadal had to deal with a sensitive topic at the press conference when one of the journalists confronted him with a matter that has been discussed around the Spanish champion for many years.
“At previous Grand Slams, some commentators criticized you for not observing the twenty-five second time limit before serving. Even John McEnroe drew attention to this,” the journalist began his question.
Nadal first had to make sure what the question was about. “Sometimes it seems like the judges are benevolent in your case. Do you think that casts any shadow on your otherwise excellent legacy?” the journalist continued.
The 36-year-old Nadal watched him with an expression of disbelief as he asked the question and didn’t even raise an eyebrow. But then he laughed.
“I take it as a joke,” he explained. “I’ve gotten a lot of warnings in my career, never for smashing a racket or swearing, but for timeouts. I have a problem with sweating a lot, and since ballkids don’t bring us towels, it takes a while to wipe off. When you have to go wipe into the corner, you already know you’re going to get into time trouble. So I don’t do that often. But I certainly don’t think the umpires treat me any differently,” Nadal replied with a smile without a hint of bitterness or irritation.
He maintained a welcoming mood even after the supplementary question, which the organizer wanted to spare Nadal, but he allowed another question of his own accord. The reporter asked if Nadal should have special rules just because he sweats more.
“I never said that,” laughed the Spanish tennis player. “I follow the rules and if I don’t do it in 25 seconds, I get a warning every time. If not, look at the clock,” Nadal said.
He then ended the interview with an allusion to the aforementioned John McEnroe, a former American tennis player who has been acting as a commentator and TV expert for many years.
“No, no, I really don’t think I’ve been treated any differently than others. I don’t understand why John says that on TV. But when I meet him, I’ll talk to him about it,” laughed the man who US He won the Open four times during his career, in 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019.