Borna Coric of Croatia on Wednesday produced a stunning performance to end Rafael Nadal’s run at the Western and Southern Open and advance to the third round in Cincinnati after hard fought battle. Coric spoiled the return of the Spaniard after a five-year absence from the ATP Cincinnati Masters on Wednesday with a 7-6 (11/9), 4-6, 6-3 upset in the second round.

Playing in his first match since withdrawing ahead of the Wimbledon semi-finals with an abdominal tear, Nadal dropped a 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-3 decision to the Croatian as he struggled to consistently play at the level which has propelled him to four tour-level titles this season.

“Obviously I didn’t play my best match,” Nadal said in his post-match presser, later revealing he was only able to play two practice sets in the buildup. “(It is) something that can happen. Historically this tournament has been difficult for me. So coming back from a tough period of time, (it is) something that’s easy to accept and easy to say congrats to Borna, that he played better.”

Nadal missed out on two set points in a dramatic first-set tie-break but regrouped to force a decider. Down the stretch, Coric dictated the rallies as he claimed his lone break of the match midway through the final set to earn the statement victory.

“It’s difficult to take a lot of positive things, but I need to improve,” Nadal said. “I need to practise. I need to return better. I need days (on the court), and that’s the truth. Obviously I had my chances in the beginning. In the tie-break I had two important chances with two set points that I played terrible with two more-or-less easy shots.” The 36-year-old also rued “a couple of terrible points” after he created an opening at 0/30 early in the third set, but kept a positive outlook overall.

“You lose, you move forward. I know the way,” he said. “The main thing for me is to stay healthy. It has been a difficult injury to manage, to be honest. The last month and a half hasn’t been easy, because having a tear on the abdominal, you don’t know when (you are) 100 per cent over the thing, so that affects a little bit in terms of not (being) sure if you are able to try your best in every serve.”

He now turns his attention to the US Open, where he will have a chance to return to the top spot in the ATP Rankings for the first time since early 2020.

“I need to move forward and just start to think about the energy that the crowd gives me in New York,” he said. “I know it’s a very special place for me, and I enjoy it. (I’ve had) unforgettable moments there, and I’m going to try my very best every single day to be ready for that.”

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