Nadal Downed By Thompson In Brisbane With Guts And Grit

Rafael Nadal (photo: Tennis Australia/Scott Davis)

BRISBANE/WASHINGTON, January 5, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Rafael Nadal‘s much admired – and publicized – comeback at this week’s Brisbane International presented by Evie was halted by unseeded Jordan Thomspon Friday night before a packed house that filled Pat Rafter Arena. The 55th-ranked Australian saved three second-set match points and went on to score an inspiring 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-3 victory over Nadal that lasted three hours and 25 minutes.

“I completely forgot I saved match points,” a surprised Thompson, 29, said during his post-match, on-court interview. “But to beat Rafa at home in Brizzy in a quarterfinal, I couldn’t be happier.

“You guys got me through it,” he added in praising the crowd. “That was something special.”

The 672nd-ranked Nadal, who received a wild card into the ATP 250 hard-court main draw, was playing in his first quarterfinal since 2022 at Wimbledon while aiming to reach his 178th tour-level semifinal. Earlier this week, he was impressive in posting back-to-back straight-set wins over  No. 98 Dominic Thiem of Austria and No. 102 Jason Kubler of Australia.

However, it was all for naught as the 22-time major champion from Spain came up short after the fearless Thompson, a Sydney native, prolonged the match by saving three match points in the second set. The first one occurred with Nadal leading 5-4 (40-30), while the others happened at 6-4 and 6-5 in the subsequent tie-break. Nadal had beaten Thompson in two previous meetings, most recently in straight sets at Roland Garros in 2022. This time, though, Thompson relied on guts and grit to pound away at a tiring Nadal.

After pulling out the second set, Thomson went to work and with momentum in his favor, he kept Nadal on the move by blasting the ball off both wings. Nadal left the court for a medical time out trailing 4-1 in the third set for treatment on his upper left leg. Finally, it was only after Nadal pushed a backhand long on the longest point of the match — 34 shots — that Thompson had gutted out his first career win over Nadal that advanced him to face No. 2 seed Grigor Dimitrov on Saturday.

“I’m tired, of course. Sad in this moment because I had plenty of opportunities,” Nadal said during his post-match news conference. “But I think he played a good match. For me, even [though] that was not the best match, I had a lot of opportunities to win it, so … That’s it, I need to accept all this kind of stuff. After a year, that’s normal that things happen. 

“As I say every day: Every day is a different story, and things are difficult after such a long time. Today the opponent played well, made me play one more ball. I didn’t play badly, but I was just one ball away.”

After playing in his first tour-level tournament since the 2023 Australian Open, Nadal added: “It’s a beginning. I didn’t play a tournament for such a long time. Even without playing a tournament, it’s not [like] I am practicing at the highest level for four months. As I said, the last month has been quite good in terms of intensity, but is not a long period of time.”

Nadal was asked about the injury to his upper leg. He explained that the affected area is in a similar location to his previous injury from last season. However, he added, that pain was more in his muscle and this one was in his tendon.

“For sure it’s not the same like last year at all, because when it happened last year, I felt something drastic immediately,” Nadal said. “Today I didn’t feel anything. The only problem is because the place is the same, you are a little bit more scared than usual.

“In [an] ideal world, it’s just the muscle supercharged after a few days of effort and a very tough match. That will be the ideal thing, something that we know that can happen today. That is why I’m talking all the time and my goal is to try to be competitive in a few months.”

The bottom line according to Rafa, who will move on from Brisbane to Melbourne and start preparing for the Australian Open: “If that [pain] is not important, it’s a very positive week.”

Around the Queensland Tennis Centre

Top seed Holger Rune and No. 2 seed Grigor Dimitrov each have reached their first semifinal of the new season. The World No. 8 Rune from Denmark beat 116th-ranked Australian qualifier James Duckworth, 6-2, 7-6 (6), in an hour and 46 minutes after winning five straight games to garner the opening before pulling out a second-set tie-break to advance.

Rune struck 33 winners, including 13 aces. “I thought it was a great match,” he said in his on-court interview. “I started very strong with some good level tennis. I felt like I was still in control of the second set. I had some chances to break and didn’t manage to do it, but I stayed there and was strong in the tie-break mentally and physically, and played some good tennis.”

Next, Rune will face No. 39 Roman Safiullin of Russia, who defeated No. 44 Matteo Arnaldi of Italy, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Meanwhile, Dimitrov reached the last four with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over 71st-ranked Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata, his 21st career win in Queensland. It’s the fifth time the Bulgarian, who won the 2017 title, has reached a Brisbane semifinal.

By the numbers

No. 55 Jordan Thompson has improved to No. 46 in the ATP Live Rankings following his victories this week in Brisbane over Aleksandar Vukic, No. 4 seed Ugo Humbert and Rafael Nadal.

“Quotable …”

“Well, tired, of course. Sad in this moment because I had plenty of opportunities. But I think he played a good match. For me, even that was not the best match, I had a lot of opportunities to win it, so…

“Today the opponent played well. Made me play one more ball. I didn’t play bad, but I was just one ball away.”

Rafael Nadal during his post-match news conference following his quarterfinal loss to Jordan Thompson on Friday evening.