Rafael Nadal’s return from an abdominal injury was cut short in Cincinnati on Wednesday night, as he fell to comeback kid Borna Coric in his first match back, 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-3.
Coric is currently ranked No. 152 after missing a whole year between last March and this March with a shoulder injury, but he’s a former No. 12 and has been a thorn in Nadal’s side—this was his third win in five meetings with the 22-time Grand Slam champion.
“Very, very special,” Coric said in his post-match interview. “I was out for the last two years. I didn’t play on the big stage and in front of a big crowd. I was honestly just looking forward to playing this match, as I hadn’t had that in the last two years.
“Now obviously that I’ve won, it’s just, yeah, kind of crazy, I would say.”
Things were neck and neck from the start between the two, with neither player budging on serve throughout the first set—before and after coming back from a rain delay with Nadal up 5-4—and there was little between them in the tie-break, too, with Nadal actually bringing up two sets points at 6-5 and 7-6 but Coric ultimately sneaking out the set.
After six more holds to start the second set Nadal cracked the match open again with a break for 4-3, and the two held from there until the they were headed to a third set—but Coric broke for 4-2 in the decider and held until it was all over, finishing it off in style after two hours and 51 minutes with a huge inside-out forehand winner.
Coric’s victory over the No. 3-ranked Nadal was his 10th career win over a Top 5 player, and his biggest win in almost four years.
The Croat has now won three of five career meetings with Nadal—it was also his 10th career win over a Top 5 player.
CORIC’S WINS OVER TOP 5 PLAYERS (10):
d. No. 3 Nadal in 2014 Basel QFs
d. No. 3 Murray in 2015 Dubai QFs
d. No. 5 Nadal in 2016 Cincinnati 3rd Rd
d. No. 1 Murray in 2017 Madrid 3rd Rd
d. No. 3 Zverev in 2018 Halle 1st Rd
d. No. 1 Federer in 2018 Halle F
d. No. 4 Del Potro in 2018 Shanghai 3rd Rd
d. No. 2 Federer in 2018 Shanghai SFs
d. No. 4 Thiem in 2020 ATP Cup RR
d. No. 3 Nadal in 2022 Cincinnati 2nd Rd
“Well, obviously, I didn’t play my best match,” Nadal said afterwards. “Something that can happen. Yeah, historically this tournament has been difficult for me. So coming back from a tough period of time, something easy to accept and easy to say congrats to Borna that he played better. That’s it. Just well done to him.”
Nadal was playing his first match since defeating Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon on July 6th, exactly 42 days ago—he withdrew prior to his semifinal against Nick Kyrgios there due to an abdominal injury and had been recovering since then.
It was also the Spaniard’s first match on hard courts in exactly 150 days, since falling to Fritz in the final of another Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells on March 20th.
The former world No. 1’s next scheduled event is the US Open in two weeks, where he’s a four-time champion, lifting the title in 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019.