Limited by physical problems and an exhausted body, Rafael Nadal lost the Indian Wells final on Sunday against a very convincing Taylor Fritz and put an end to his extraordinary winning streak of 20 straight games since the beginning of the year.
Fritz, 24 years old and ranked No. 20 in the world, beat Nadal 6-3, 7-6(5) in two hours and six minutes to become the first American to win Indian Wells since Andre Agassi in 2001.
After his epic duel of more than three hours against his compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, Nadal was quite uncomfortable on the court: he was never able to display his usual energy and anger, and had to request the assistance of medical services on two occasions to help him with chest pains that had already appeared during the semifinal on Saturday.
“All I can say is that breathing is hard for me right now. I don’t know, when I try to breathe it’s painful and very uncomfortable,” Nadal explained after the final.
“I don’t know if it’s something in my ribs, I don’t know yet. When I breathe and when I move it’s as if I have a needle inside all the time. It makes me feel a bit dizzy because it’s painful. It’s a kind of pain that limits me a lot,” he added.
Triple winner at Indian Wells (2007, 2009 and 2013), Nadal was on the verge of his fourth crown in the Californian desert and also his fourth tournament in a row in 2022 after his victories at the Australian Open, Melbourne and Acapulco.
Nadal, who still holds 36 Masters 1000 titles (one less than Serbian Novak Djokovic) now leaves the hard court tournaments after an impressive start to 2022 to focus on his great specialty, the clay court season.
A great Fritz
Once again, with the wind as a weight factor, but without reaching the absurdity of Nadal-Alcaraz semifinal, Fritz started the final with a menacing robust forehand and a backhand that found the angles very well.
Nadal stopped three balls “break” but he conceded his serve in the fourth against a very brave Fritz (1-0)
The American consolidated his lead with great confidence on his service while Nadal continued to struggle to control his shots from the baseline.
The Spaniard could not find his rhythm and, 15 minutes into the game, had already conceded two service breaks (3-0).
Faced with the many doubts in a Nadal short of spark or dynamism, everything was going great for Fritz: his serve was a poisonous dart, his forehand commanded the court comfortably and barely made mistakes (4-0).
Nadal took a breather with his first game won from the serve (4-1) and finally put pressure on Fritz on his serve (40-40), but the American remained calm and did not let his nerves take over (5-1).
Nadal came to recover a “break” to go up 5-3 and seemed to improve slightly, but Fritz broke his serve once more (his third break in the first set) to win the first set with admirable solvency after 39 minutes.
The American stood out in the first set with 83% of points won with his first serve and a great pressure on Nadal´s serve, who only took 23% of his points from his second serve.
Before the start of the second set, Nadal requested medical attention for his chest problems.
But he was still very uncomfortable on the track and there was no sign of one of his famous comebacks, even though the public tried to encourage him again and again—many of them in Spanish.
What did not fail were his spirit and his claw, which reappeared when he kept the serve after seeing the ears of the wolf once more (1-1).
Nadal channeled that outbreak of rage and, with greater aggressiveness in the rest, managed to make Fritz tremble with his service and deliver the “break” (1-2).
The joy did not last long for Nadal, who lost his serve just after and was still stuck with his errors (2-2).
Fritz was no longer the insurmountable wall of the first set, but Nadal could not outgrow his moments of weakness and wasted four break balls to take the lead (3-2).
Without a clear dominator and with both players controlling their serve with relative ease, a key moment came with a ball from “break” for Nadal at 4-4 after a very long and fantastic point that the Spaniard won by torturing Fritz over and over again with sliced shots.
However, Nadal was not fine enough to close that break (5-4).
In the most exciting section of the afternoon, Nadal, who again asked for the help of the physiotherapist, managed to save a match point before the duel went to “tie break”.
Nadal lifted the crowd with several points in the net, but a couple of serious errors ended up giving the set and the final to a great Fritz who won, in this way, the most important victory of his career.