Borna Coric has spoiled Rafael Nadal’s return to the Cincinnati Masters after sending the 22-time grand slam champion packing in a three-set thriller.
Making his return to the court after a six-week injury layoff, Nadal’s preparations for the US Open were dealt a blow as he succumbed to the Croatian in a 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-3 defeat.
Nadal – who won this year’s Australian Open and French Open majors to take his career tally to 22 – hadn’t played since July 6 after an abdominal tear forced him to withdraw from the Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios.
The second-seeded Nadal, 36, showed no signs of the injury that mostly plagued his serve.
The majority of the crowd in Cincinnati were understandably in the corner of Nadal, who was playing his first match there in five years.
However, at the conclusion of the 2 hour and 51 minutes tussle – not including an almost 90-minute rain relay in the middle – it was the World No.152 that was soaking in the adulation of the crowd.
A tense deciding set was progressing on serves until Coric grabbed the all important break in the sixth game to go up 4-2.
Nadal tried to conjure up every ounce of his trademark fighting spirit but Coric had all the momentum, and all the answers.
The Croatian star won two gruelling points in succession before turning the screws to force his Spanish opponent to serve to stay in the match.
Nadal upped his game when he needed it most, easily holding serve to put the onus back on his opponent.
Coric claimed the opening point on his serve but Nadal made him work for it in what was one of the rallies of the match.
With Nadal seemingly fading and his opponent looking sharp, Coric set up match point with an exhibition of power hitting.
It was only fitting that the 25-year-old sealed the match with a brutal inside-out forehand to clinch a big upset win over Nadal.
The incredible scenes left fans in shock on social media.
Aussie duo both thrashed in straight sets
Earlier, Aussie pair Nick Kyrgios and Alex de Minaur both bowed in Cincinnati after being comprehensively outclassed in straight sets.
Kyrgios struggled physically during an emphatic defeat by Taylor Fritz which may put a question mark over the Australian’s US Open hopes.
On a day when Aussie de Minaur was also comfortably tamed by Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, Kyrgios went down in a 6-3 6-2 capitulation that lasted just 50 minutes.
Needing treatment on a troublesome left knee, it looked as if all the Aussie’s breakthrough matches over the past month may have begun to catch up with him as he ended up not even able to rouse himself into any state of high dudgeon after some early rows with the chair umpire.
Some of the crowd in Cincinnati clearly weren’t too impressed either with the amount of effort they’d seen from the mercurial Canberra figure as there were a smattering of boos at the end of the one-sided affair.
“He doesn’t look strong enough to do it week in, week out,” former US Open finalist Greg Rusedski noted on Amazon Prime.
“You can hear the boos around the stadium. They didn’t feel like he’d given his best effort out there. But I think you’ve got to give him some slack … he’s given it a go.”
Kyrgios, who’d been on a roll with 16 wins in his previous 18 matches stretching back to the start of his famous Wimbledon run, looked to be distracted from the start, muttering about it “being only a matter of time before it all unravels”.
He started with a running argument with umpire Renaud Lichtenstein about his failure to control spectators moving about during points, telling the official: “Why don’t you do your job properly?”
Kyrgios was also told three times by Lichtenstein not to keep swearing, although the Aussie got away with not receiving an official code violation.
De Minaur was also swept aside 6-3 6-2 by Canada’s Auger-Aliassime.
Just as Kyrgios had too much firepower for him the previous week in Montreal, the Sydneysider, who so often finds the very best in the business a step too far for him, was bullied by the young Canadian.
It was a dispiriting experience for world No.20 de Minaur, who, as ever, was not found wanting in effort as he tried to launch a fight back from 4-0 down in the second set.
Auger-Aliassime decorated his emphatic win with 22 winners. The 22-year-old’s power earned him four breaks while de Minaur broke just the once when all was nearly lost at 4-1 down in the second stanza, a brilliant effort capped by a rocketing forehand.
But his resistance didn’t last long as Auger-Aliassime quickly restored his supremacy, breaking for a 5-2 lead before wrapping up proceedings on his own delivery in just 78 minutes.