The night before, the Spaniard pulled out of a three-hour, four-minute thriller against Jack Sock.
The night after American Jack Sock survived a three-hour, four-minute thriller in his opening match 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (1), Rafael Nadal was pushed to the limit Thursday night in Washington against another inspired opponent, but this time he could not escape, losing to South African Lloyd Harris 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 in the Round of 16.
Harris’ win over No. 3-ranked Nadal is the biggest of his career.
“It’s amazing to play here with a player of his caliber, and beating him is a special moment in my career. It’s probably the best win of my career,” Harris said.
“And the fact that it happened in front of all these fans makes it even better.”
Things could have gone either way in the first set. Harris drew first blood, breaking at 4-3 and serving for the set at 5-4. Nadal converted a break point in that game, but Harris unleashed three consecutive winkers – including a powerful forehand down the line from the run-up at set point – to get out of a tight spot and end the first set.
In the second set, Nadal lit up after 1-0, winning five straight games to tie the set and move the match into the third, where both stayed on serve until the last game. That’s when Harris once again pounced on his opponent: Nadal’s approach shot at match point snagged the net and hit the South African, who eventually outlasted the Spaniard, ending the match after two hours and 10 minutes of on-court play.
“The second set wasn’t bad, I think just one or two points went in his favor,” Harris said in his on-court interview. “I knew I just needed to be a little more patient and more solid. That’s what I tried to do in the third set, and it paid off.”
Nadal played well in the match, finishing with a +15 difference in the ratio of winnings to unforced errors, 26 to 11. Harris was only slightly better, +17 (38 to 21).
Nadal, who was playing only his second match in 55 days and had foot trouble the day before against Sock, gave Harris all the credit after the match.
“I was ready,” the Spaniard said. “The most positive thing is that my foot was better today than it was yesterday, so that’s the best news. I played against a player who played well. At this point I played better than yesterday, but in the third set, when I had opportunities, the truth is that his serve was huge and I played the last game really bad.”
“That’s the way the sport is. You can’t make mistakes at key moments, and at key moments, I think I was a little more nervous in the last game. My serve wasn’t working properly. That’s about it. Good for him. It’s a big win for him.
“I wish him all the best.”
So what’s next for the 20-time Grand Slam champion?
“Yeah, for me it’s just to keep going,” he said. “To accept the challenge that I need to keep working, and maybe I’ll get another chance next week in Toronto.
“I’m going to keep trying my best.”
Harris became the first player to win his first career meeting against Nadal since Denis Shapovalov beat the Spaniard in the third round in Montreal in 2017.
The South African also improved to 2-5 in his career against Top-10 players, winning at least a set in six of those seven matches. His second Top-10 win was over No. 4 ranked Dominic Thiem in the second round of a tournament in Dubai earlier this year.