Rafael Nadal lost for the first time this season
The Masters in Indian Wells came to a sensational end. In the final, Rafael Nadal lost in two sets to American Taylor Fritz. It was the 21-time Grand Slam champion’s first loss this season.
Three contenders had come to the semifinals of Indian Wells with impressive series victories. Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz has won 10 matches, Andrei Rublev 13 and Rafael Nadal 19.
In the Spanish derby, Nadal, 35, handled 18-year-old Alcaraz, extending his streak to 20 wins and reaching his 53rd career Masters final. In another pair, American Taylor Fritz stopped Rublev and advanced to the deciding match for the first time at such a high ranked competition.
Nadal won this tournament three times (2007, 2009, 2013) and once more in the final (2011). But the 24-year-old Fritz, who belongs to the Rublev, Zverev and Hurkac generation, has only one title under his belt, at Eastbourne 2019. Nevertheless, you can’t call Taylor a little-known tennis player. He won the junior US Open in 2015 and has been to the finals of several ATP tournaments, including the pentathlon in Acapulco 2020. Last year, Fritz left the Roland Garros court in a wheelchair after a leg injury. He underwent surgery and won a match at Wimbledon in July.
Nadal also has many health problems. Last season, after losing to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of Roland Garros, the Spaniard took a break from playing, returned in August at the ATP-500 tournament in Washington and then ended the year early. The more unexpected was the start of 2022, when Rafael won three consecutive titles (Melbourne, Australian Open, Acapulco) and reached the Indian Wells final. The Spaniard set several records during the California tournament. His match against Alcaraz marked his 954th win on the open court, beating Roger Federer. In the course of the tournament, Nadal was the first player in history to surpass the 400-match winning streak at the Masters. By the finals, that number had reached 403 bouts.
Nadal and Fritz had only met once before the finals in Indian Wells, with the Spaniard convincingly winning 6-3, 6-2 in the deciding match of Acapulco 2020. Nevertheless, Fritz was determined to take on the famous Rafa: “It’s terrific to know that he won’t give you a single point and will fight to the end. Nadal’s fighting spirit always leads him to victory. But his serve doesn’t take you off the court, so I’ll have a chance on the receiving end. He’s really good on the serve, though, so it’ll work the other way, too. I’ve been serving really well all week, but I’m sure he’s going to do something.
The surprises began even before the final match. According to reporters covering the tournament on the spot, the American twisted his right ankle during a morning workout and ended the session prematurely. As his celebrity coach Paul Annacon later admitted, the entire team, including coach Michael Russell and fitness coach Wolfgang Oswald, strongly advised Taylor not to go to the final that day. However, the American said: “I’ll play. I can do it. I really want to get on the court with Rafa.
But the doctors worked a miracle. Taylor came out for the final and stunned Nadal from the very first minutes. The American played very aggressively, pushed his tempo and made Rafael make repeated mistakes. Quite quickly the score was 4:0 in favour of Fritz. But gradually the Spaniard began to play more and more, and with a score of 5:2 he was able to break the set for the first time: 5:3. But later, for the third time in the game, Taylor took his game back from Nadal, 6-3, after 40 minutes.
As the game progressed, Rafa summoned a doctor to the court. It turned out the Spaniard had trouble breathing and his chest on the day: “Honestly, when I was breathing, I felt pain. It came from the match with Alcaraz. I don’t know what it had to do with, maybe a rib. But when I breathe or move, I feel like a needle is stabbing me inside. I get a little dizzy. This pain limits me a lot and doesn’t make me feel normal.”
Nevertheless, the second game was much tougher. Nadal led with a break – 2-1, but immediately lost the advantage – 2:2. In the next game the Spaniard could not capitalize on four break points. With the score 4:5 on his serve Rafael managed to save from a match point. In the end, the fortune of the game, the match and the title were decided in the tie-break where the American was luckier – 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) in 2 hours and 5 minutes.
After the match, the happy champion said: “Winning a tournament like this is one of those childhood dreams that seemed to never come true, and you try not to even think about it. I can’t even tell you how much pain I felt in the pre-game warm-up before today’s match against Nadal. I literally took a few steps and screamed. I tried to play hard, we did a lot of work leading up to the match. I went through a roller coaster of emotions and suddenly I felt really happy.” Fritz became the first American to win Indian Wells since Andre Agassi’s triumph in 2001. With that win, Taylor earned $1,231,245 in prize money and 1,000 ranking points. On Monday, March 21, he became the world No. 13 for the first time. Rafael Nadal will move up to third place after seven months at the California Masters.