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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, May 11, 2024


No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz hammered Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-3 in what is likely the 37-year-old Spanish superstar’s final Rome match.

Photo credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty

Rome fans chanted “Rafa! Rafa!” trying to rouse the 10-time champion in a collective chorus today.

An oppressive Hubert Hurkacz silenced the crowd and closed the curtain on king of clay Rafael Nadal’s glorious Rome career.

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A near-flawless Hurkacz hammered Nadal 6-1, 6-3 to earn his first Italian Open win in four years in what is likely the 37-year-old Spanish superstar’s final Rome match.

The enduring warrior received a rousing standing ovation salute from fans as he departed Eternal City for likely the last time.

Turning to wave to the packed Court Centrale crowd, Nadal tossed his towel to appreciative fans as he departed.

"I always say that I will never be able to thank enough all the love and support that I receive around the world," Nadal told the media in Rome. "Here in Rome is obviously one of the most important events in my tennis career, one of these events that's as going to be in my heart for so many reasons.

"But here I played few of the most important matches, beautiful matches, emotional ones. In a lot of moments of my tennis career, I was able to come back from tough moments playing here in Rome, especially the last eight years when I arrive here with some doubts, then I started to play well here."

The king of clay said this was probably his farewell to Roma though he left the door slightly open for a potential curtain call.

"I don't know if going to be the last time I'm going to play here or not," Nadal said. "Of course, is much more chances that that's today the last one. But, of course, I am not a guy that I make decisions in a hot moments, in the tough moments. Just try to let it be little bit the time and then let's see."

Staring at the strings of his Babolat racquet as if searching for solutions to the problems the ninth-ranked Pole caused, Nadal threw a variety of tactics against Hurkacz, but the ATP ace leader (434 aces in 2024) withstood the opening-game stress and served lights out in the seocnd set.

Ultimately, Nadal lacked the explosiveness to finish points.

Rome's Court Central is a smaller space than Roland Garros' more expansive Court Philippe Chatrier and Nadal looked boxed in at times during the second set.

"In the first set I think the score lie a little bit about what the game was. Then he was much better than me in the second," Nadal told the media in Rome. "I don't have that feeling in the first, but in the second, yeah. I was not able to push him back...

"Here is not the biggest court. He was serving well. It was difficult for me to return. It's difficult to feel yourself with real chances of come back with his serve and without being able to create enough damage to him and creating mistakes.

"That's it. Just accept that. Tough day for me in all ways because I felt more ready than what I showed. That's give me a bad feeling because feeling myself better not being able to show myself on court."

The first two games spanned 26 minutes, the final 14 games took 67 minutes.

"Definitely really proud of myself," Hurkacz said afterward. "Playing Rafa is special. It's just different, especially being on clay, the surface that he just dominated over the past 20 years. No one will ever have a record like him on this surface.

"He's just bigger than the sport at the end of the day. He just brings so many fans, so many people follow him, he inspires so many guys. I'm just really happy to have that experience today."

Credit Hurkacz for outplaying the king of clay and dominating stretches of the match on serve. Hurkacz saved four break points in the opening game as Nadal came out crunching forehands.

That opening-game stand spurred Hurkacz, who hit 9 aces against 1 double fault, won 25 of 30 first-serve points and saved all seven break points he faced. During one commanding stretch, Hurkacz won 16 straight service points, including 12 in a row to start the second set.

Though Nadal adopted more aggressive court positioning as the match progressed, he could not break Hurkacz down from the baseline. Given it was just his 11th match this season, you can understand Nadal’s frustration in his inability to crack Hurkacz’s serve or defense.

Make no mistake though, Hurkacz won this match more than Nadal lost it.

Nadal earned break point in the opening game, but was confounded by a kick serve from Hurkacz that saved it. On the second break point, Nadal was in charge with his forehand but buried that stroke into the net.

Facing a fourth break point, Hurkacz swept the center stripe clean with an ace. A timid drop shot sat up and Nadal swooped in to knife a backhand winner for a fifth break point.

Hurkacz saved it by churning through a draining 14-minute hold to open the match.

Facing a second break point in the second game, Nadal ran so far around his backhand he was standing in the doubles alley when he fired a forehand winner to save it. Nadal navigated a 10-minute hold to level.

Stamping a love hold, Hurkacz knocked off a smash for a break point in the fourth game. Trying to exploit the Pole’s deep court positioning, Nadal tapped a forehand drop shot that did not clear the net giving Hurkacz the break and a 3-1 lead.

The free-flowing Polish player consolidated at 15 stretching his lead to 4-1 after 42 minutes.

Searching for solutions to finish points, Nadal saved a break point with a backhand winner.

On the second break point, Nadal again betrayed his own cause bunting a dropper into net to hand Hurkacz a second break and a 5-1 lead.

The former Miami Open champion saved two more break points—by then Hurkacz denied all seven break points he faced—then thumped a smash and drew an error to cap a 50-minute opening set that was tighter than the scoreline suggests.

The 10-time Rome champion served 75 percent but won only 8 of 18 first-serve points in the opening set. In contrast, Hurkacz smacked seven aces and won 17 of 22 first-serve points in the set.

Even more unsettling for Nadal: Hurkacz was reading the Spaniard’s shots and squeezing safe space for him to explore.

Covering the court beautifully, Hurkacz was countering everything Nadal threw at him.

The 37-year-old Spanish superstar tried to press the issue. Nadal attacked and blocked a volley into the corner. Hurkacz read it and rolled a running pass down the line that clipped the top of the tape and plopped onto the clay. That net-aided passing winner gave Hurkacz his third break in the third game.

The Estoril champion charged through eight straight service points to start the second set with a 3-1 lead.

Though Nadal was trying to step in more, Hurkacz was untouchable on serve to that point. Hurkacz imposed his third straight love hold extending to 4-2. Nadal answered with his own love hold in the seventh game.

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The 27-year-old Hurkacz knows all about facing iconic champions in farewell matches.

Competing with conviction on Centre Court, Hurkacz hit his hero Roger Federer right out of Wimbledon in July of 2021.

A fearless Hurkacz swept Federer 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-0 storming to a dream victory that vaulted him into his first Grand Slam semifinal and capped the Swiss Maestro's brilliant SW19 career.

A humble Hurkacz showed his class again today against the king of clay.

Showing no signs of stress, Hurkacz danced around his backhand and drilled a diagonal forehand winner for match point.

When Nadal’s final shot sailed, Hurkacz had his first Rome win in four years and Nadal’s glorious Rome run came to a close.

Hurkacz will play 25th-seeded Argentinean Tomas Martin Etcheverry next.


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