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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, November 2, 2022


A proactive Tommy Paul spoiled Rafael Nadal's return with a 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-1 upset—his fourth career Top 5 win—to reach the Rolex Paris Masters round of 16.

Photo credit: Getty

Summoning a ball kid to the baseline, Rafael Nadal asked for aid soaking up the puddle of sweat he spilled on court.

Shedding the assertive shadow Tommy Paul cast on court proved more problematic.

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A proactive Paul stormed net at crunch time crashing Nadal's comeback party with a dynamic 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-1 upset to reach the Rolex Paris Masters round of 16 for the first time.

Fifteen years after Nadal fell to David Nalbandian in the 2007 final, Paul made history as the first man to send the 14-time Roland Garros champion out of Bercy before the quarterfinals.

Contesting his first singles match since a four-set US Open fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe on September 5th, Nadal led by a set and a break at 2-1 when he dropped serve at love. Paul leveraged that break to turn the match around as Nadal looked a bit compromised by the end of his comeback back.

"All the credit to Tommy. Things that happens sometimes," Nadal said afterward. "But no, it's good, no? I think he played aggressive, a lot of great shots. I had my match in that second set with set and break. I played terrible game there.

"Yeah, I didn't deserve the victory playing that bad in that key moment, no. Until that moment was okay, a good match for me. Knowing that is my first match since a while. Then this surface especially you cannot make mistakes with your serve."

Boldly attacking Nadal's fearsome lefty forehand, Paul played with cat burglar quickness and dabbed stealth volleys off dipping passes with self-assurance. Paul won 20 of 26 net points posting the biggest win (by ranking) of his life as Nadal seemed to physically fade in his first match since being a new father.

Respected as a quick all-court talent sometimes prone to concentration lapses, Paul often brings his best against the best in the most successful season of his career. The 31st-ranked American improved to 4-4 vs. Top 5 opponents, including wins over No. 4 Carlos Alcaraz in Montreal and No. 3 Alexander Zverev in Indian Wells.

Tonight, Paul didn't wait for Nadal to blink, he took it to the world No. 2 at crunch time.

Much has transpired since Nadal's Flushing Meadows exit. The 36-year-old Spaniard and wife Mery welcomed their first child, a son, on October 8th. Nadal partnered friend and rival Roger Federer in the Swiss superstar's Laver Cup farewell at the O2 Arena in London last month and 19-year-old Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz captured his maiden major at the US Open and rose to world No. 1.

Wearing black kinesiology tape snaking his left knee, Alcaraz preceded Nadal on Accor Arena defeating Yoshihito Nishioka 6-4, 6-4 in his opener.

Alcaraz's sweep of Nishioka earlier combined with Nadal's opening exit, means the US Open champion will retain his No. 1 ranking another week. Nadal needed to win the Paris title and see Alcaraz lose before the quarterfinals for the 36-year-old Spaniard to regain the top spot.

"A lot of things going on the last couple of months, without a doubt," Nadal said. "But we are always ready to find excuses, but at the end, it's always the same. You play well, you win; you don't, you lose. And today for moments, putting everything in a pack, I was playing quite well.

"Then at the right moment, I didn't make the right things, no? So that's it. He played well. He's having a great year. Yeah, credit to him too that he played with the right intensity, and right concentration and going for the shots, no? I think I was doing that for a while, but then I was not able to keep doing."

Tennis Express

The Paul game plan was clear at the outset: attack any mid-court ball he saw and hit heavy forehands to the Spaniard's lefty forehand to try to make Nadal defend his backhand on the run.

A fast, fit Paul flashed a sweet running forehand pass as he drew first blood with the break for 2-1.

An uber-aggressive Paul was clubbing shots off both wings, but overhit a backhand pass crosscourt. Nadal successfully challenged the shot to break back in the fourth game.

Stamping his first love hold of the night, Nadal edged ahead 3-2.

Trying to enforce the first strike, Paul faced fire on his second serve. Bouncing right on top of the baseline, Nadal was stepping in hammering second-serve returns right at the American's feet. Paul sprayed a couple of forehands as Nadal broke again in the eighth game.

The second seed swept a diagonal forehand for triple set point. On his third set point, Nadal sealed the 42-minute opener.

The Australian Open champion punished Paul's second serve winning eight off 11 second-serve points and converting both break points.

Hitting a tricky kick serve wide, Paul saved break point in the third game of set two. Roping a running forehand down the line that splattered on the baseline, Nadal earned another break point.

Stepping into his shots and striking with harsh intentions, Nadal leveled a forehand winner down the line off a second serve breaking for a 2-1 lead.

Just when it seemed the Spaniard had tuned up his ferocious forehand, Nadal played a horrid game spraying some forehands and netting a final shot to give back the break at love.

An athletic Paul banged a backhand return, followed it forward and slid a slick backhand stab volley for break point. Nadal flipped the ensuring rally with a crackling forehand down the line saving break point. Paul torched a forehand down the line for a second break point. Nadal denied it and held firm to even the set after six games.

If you're wondering how Nadal's wheels are running after a two-month break, he showed a fast first step racing up to a drop shot, reversed course to catch-up to a lob then ripped a forehand pass in the eighth game.

Staring down a set point on serve, Nadal caught a break when Paul's return crashed into the top of the tape, popped up and settled back on his side of the net. That good fortune helped Nadal hold for 5-5.

In the tiebreaker, a nervy Nadal hit his second double fault to gift the mini break and a 2-0 lead to Paul. Whipping the wide serve set up a Paul flying smash as he stretched the lead to 4-1.

When Nadal trampolined a forehand off the tape and watched it float long, Paul had three set points. Nadal slammed an ace to save a second set point.

On the third, Paul pounced on a mid-court ball cranking his forehand into the corner to force a third set after one hour, 54 minutes.

A proactive Paul won 14 of 17 trips to net in the second set.

Empowered, Paul hit aggressive returns drawing a netted reply breaking to open the final set.

The second-seeded Spaniard narrowly missed the sideline with a pair of forehands as Paul withstood a break point holding for 3-1.

Exploding off the mark, a sliding Paul scooped up a dropper and slid a winner down the line for double break point. A disconsolate Nadal bungled a drop shot attempt as Paul broke again for 4-1.

Fittingly, Paul finished moving forward knocking off a backhand volley winner to close in two hours, 32 minutes.

It was a subdued victory celebration from Paul, who perhaps sensed the king of clay was not right and seemed to ask at net if Nadal was okay.

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Paul avenged an Acapulco loss to Nadal earlier this season improving to 38-26 in 2022.

Next up for Paul is another seeded Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta with a quarterfinal spot on the line.

No. 14-seeded Carreno Busta defeated Denis Shapovalov 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-4.


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