Rafael Nadal’s return from injury ended in defeat as the Spaniard suffered a three-set defeat to Borna Coric at the Western and Southern Open.
The 36-year-old was beaten 6-7(9), 6-4, 3-6 in what marked his first appearance since he was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon ahead of his semi-final against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal tear.
“It has been very, very special,” Coric said during his on-court interview afterwards. “I was out for the last two years and I didn’t play on the big stage in front of the crowd and everybody. I was honestly just looking forward to playing this match as I haven’t had that in the last two years. Now that I won, it’s kind of crazy.”
Coric, making his own return having missed Wimbledon through injury, went toe-to-toe with Nadal from the start as both rescued two set points during a gruelling first-set tie break that eventually fell to the Croatian.
Nadal responded strongly to level the match in the second after claiming the first break point of the contest, before surrendering an early break in the decider as Coric pulled away for the victory.
Coric will now take on Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round following his victory over Marcos Giron.
The result denied the world No 3 a return back to the top of the ATP rankings, though he will get the opportunity to do so again at the US Open.
“Obviously I didn’t play my best match, something that can happen,” Nadal told reporters. “So coming back from a tough period of time, something that’s easy to accept and easy to say congrats to Borna that he played better.
“I need to improve. I need to practise. I need to return better. I need days, and that’s the truth. It’s obvious that I was not ready enough to win the match today. (It) has been a difficult injury to manage. The last month and a half haven’t been easy.”
Nadal will be chasing a 23rd Grand Slam singles title when he heads to Flushing Meadows, where he has won on four occasions in the past.
“I am positive,” he said. “In terms of practice, I need to start to be in a Grand Slam mode, practising the way that I need to practise to be competitive since the beginning there, and I hope I will be able to make that happen.
“I need to move forward and just start to think about the energy that the crowd gives me in New York. I know it’s a very special place for me, and I enjoy it, unforgettable moments there, and I’m going to try my very best every single day to be ready for that.”
Rudd & Kyrgios both suffer early exits
Elsewhere overnight Sebastian Korda picked up his first win over Frances Tiafoe, edging his compatriot 4-6 6-1 6-4.
The upset of the day went to American wild card Ben Shelton after the 19-year-old continued his dream ATP Masters debut with a 6-3 6-3 win over world No 5 Casper Ruud.
A day after taking down Lorenzo Sonego, the 229th-ranked Shelton needed just 68 minutes to beat Ruud and advance to a third-round match against fellow left-hander Cameron Norrie.
American No 1 Taylor Fritz sent down 16 aces to come out on top against Nick Kyrgios, with the Australian firing just seven of his own and offsetting most of those with six double faults.
The 11th-seeded Fritz needed just 51 minutes to hand Kyrgios his second defeat since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final.
Such was Fritz’s domination on serve that Kyrgios could not muster a single break opportunity, while the 24-year-old American converted three of his seven chances.
“It feels great to have my game come together today,” said Fritz. “That’s the kind of match I really needed to give me a lot of confidence going into the next match, going to the US Open, a lot of things are clicking for sure.”