There were moments, to be sure, when Rafael Nadal played quite like someone competing for the first time in nearly two months and dealing with a left foot injury he acknowledged afterward was painful. The shaky serving. The consecutive netted forehands that handed over a key break. The inability to take control against an opponent ranked 192nd.
And then, on the way to a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (1) victory over Jack Sock at the Citi Open over more than three hours Wednesday night, there were moments when Nadal seemed every bit the 20-time Grand Slam champion who drew a full house announced at 7,500 merely by making his debut at the hard-court tournament. “The match wasn’t easy,” Nadal said. “I started to suffer a little bit too much.”
The highlight was a back-to-the-net, between-the-legs bit of magic in the first set that prompted Nadal to punch the air and prompted his fans to stand and roar. The court coverage on that effort, and when he smacked an on-the-run winner off a drop shot by Sock in the tiebreaker, at least, hid any apparent issues stemming from the foot injury Nadal recently revealed was part of why he sat out Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics and went three weeks without lifting a racket.