Australian Open: Nadal almost pulled out just days before travelling, says uncle Toni

By Sports Desk January 25, 2022

Rafael Nadal almost pulled out of the Australian Open just days before heading to Melbourne, according to his uncle.

The 35-year-old battled past Denis Shapovalov on Tuesday to reach the semi-finals of the tournament for just the third time since 2016.

Nadal, who is chasing a record 21st grand slam title to break the three-way tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, has only won the first major of the year once in his career – back in 2009 – and lost at the quarter-final stage in 2020 and 2021.

Even with nine-time champion Djokovic not competing after being deported by border authorities over a visa dispute, few considered Nadal to be the favourite for the title this year given he went from August to December in 2021 without playing a match, having undergone surgery on a foot injury.

Nadal has looked in strong form, though, even recovering from apparent stomach trouble and difficulty in the heat to beat Shapovalov 6-3 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-3 after more than four hours of action on Rod Laver Arena.

Toni Nadal, his coach for most of his professional career, said his nephew nearly decided against competing at all in Australia as he did not feel ready.

Asked if he were surprised by Nadal's form, he told Cadena SER: "Yes, I'm surprised, because I remember when three days before the start, Rafa called my youngest son to hit a few balls after being quarantined due to coronavirus.

"At nine o'clock, we went to train and during training, he said, 'I don't know if I'm going to go or not because at the moment I'm not in condition for an Australian Open'. They only had three days to get a flight.

"The following day, he perked up and said 'Okay, come on, I'm going'. I think it was more the excitement of competing and returning to competition than believing in himself."

Speaking about the quarter-final, Toni Nadal said his brother in Australia told the family about the problems with the heat on court.

"He looked good. In the first two sets, he played at quite a good level against a tough opponent," he said.

"Everything changed as a result of heatstroke. We were watching the game with the family and at one point, after the second set, I said, 'well, I think this is done', and my brother in Australia said no, he's literally exhausted, and he'd told them he had had heatstroke."

Shapovalov lost his temper with umpire Carlos Bernardes during the match for refusing to give Nadal a time violation during a change of ends, proclaiming "You guys are all corrupt" before claiming post-match that players such as Nadal receive preferential treatment on court.

 

"I think he is totally wrong," said Toni. "When you have to change, you need time and the umpire normally looks at the players and sees the time and starts the clock later. He pressed too soon, realised it and that's why he gave Rafa more time.

"Young people sometimes act without thinking. How could an umpire be corrupt?"

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    Nick Kyrgios labelled Stefanos Tsitsipas "soft" and defended his on-court antics after the Greek called him a "bully" in the aftermath of their ill-tempered Wimbledon clash.

    Kyrgios recovered from one set down to post an impressive 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 6-3 7-6 (9-7) win over the fourth seed, setting up a last-16 tie with Brandon Nakashima with a scintillating performance on No. 1 Court.

    But the contest was not without controversy, with Kyrgios frustrating Tsitsipas by calling for him to be defaulted after the Greek narrowly missed a spectator when firing a ball into the crowd at the end of the second set.

    The Australian then labelled the umpire a "disgrace" during an extraordinary outburst, and his antics seemed to get under the skin of Tsitsipas, who was deducted a point for sending another ball towards the spectators before appearing to hit a couple of shots directly at Kyrgios.

    While Kyrgios praised his opponent – with whom he played doubles at Wimbledon three years ago, as "a hell of a player" in his post-match interview, neither player was in the mood for niceties in their respective news conferences.

    First up was Tsitsipas, who accused Kyrgios of "constant bullying".

    "That's what he does," the world number five said of his rival. "He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at school himself.

    "I don't like bullies. I don't like people that put other people down.

    "He has some good traits in his character, as well. But he also has a very evil side to him, which, if it's exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him."

    Kyrgios, who has now claimed four wins in five career meetings with Tsitsipas, responded to that criticism shortly thereafter, alleging the Greek was not popular in the locker room and saying his inability to handle such matches would hold him back.

    "He's that soft, to come in here and say I bullied him? That's just soft," Kyrgios said. 

    "We're not cut from the same cloth. If he's affected by that today, then that’s what's holding him back, because someone can just do that and that's going to throw him off his game like that. I just think it's soft.

    "I don't know what to say. I'm not sure how I bullied him.

    "He was the one hitting balls at me, he was the one that hit a spectator, he was the one that smacked it out of the stadium.

    "I didn't do anything. I was actually like… apart from me just going back and forth to the umpire for a bit, I did nothing towards Stefanos today that was disrespectful, I don't think. I was not drilling him with balls.

    "I feel great, the circus was all him today. I think if he's making that match about me, he's got some serious issues, I'm good in the locker room, I've got many friends, I'm actually one of the most liked [players]. I'm set.

    "He's not liked, let's just put that there. I'm good, I feel good."

    Kyrgios is just one win away from matching his best run at Wimbledon, having reached the quarter-finals in 2014 with a win over Rafael Nadal before being beaten by Milos Raonic.

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    Kyrgios produced an outstanding display to rally after losing the first set on No. 1 Court, eventually prevailing 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 6-3 7-6 (9-7) in an incident-filled match.

    The enigmatic star set the tone with an incredible outburst after a frustrated Tsitsipas struck a ball into the crowd at the end of the second set, narrowly missing a spectator.

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    Kyrgios could be heard calling the umpire a "disgrace", and then, after Tsitsipas had been let off with a warning, the unseeded talent asked: "Are you dumb?"

    He then hit out at the umpire, yelling: "What are you talking about? Novak hit someone, it is the same, it happened right there. 

    "Bring out more supervisors, I'm not done. You can bring them all out, I don't care. I'm not playing until we get to the bottom of it. 

    "What happened to Novak when he hit the ball into a girl? She was injured. You can't hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted."

    But the drama was far from done as Tsitsipas flew into a rage of his own early in the third, having been hit with a point deduction for wildly firing another ball towards the crowd – but hitting the scoreboard instead – after Kyrgios produced a mischievous underarm serve when holding to love.

    The fourth seed's frustration was evident as he then appeared to hit a couple of shots right at Kyrgios to boos from spectators, who vociferously cheered every point for the Australian.

    But after producing some outstanding tennis to end the aggravated Tsitsipas' hopes of winning a first grand slam title, Kyrgios said he had no problems with the Greek, whom he played doubles with at Wimbledon in 2019.

    "Honestly, it was a hell of an atmosphere, an amazing match, I honestly felt like the favourite coming in; I played him a couple of weeks ago, but I knew it was going to be a tough match," he said.

    "He's a hell of a player, I had my own tactics out there – he knows how to play me, he's beaten me once, and obviously I've had success, so it was a hell of a match.

    "I'm just super happy to be through, he was getting frustrated at times and it's a frustrating sport, that's for sure. I know you all think you can play, but it's very frustrating, whatever happens on the court, I love him."

    Kyrgios now holds a 4-1 head-to-head lead over Tsitsipas, having also got the better of the world number five on the grass at the Halle Open earlier this month.

    The 27-year-old also previously courted controversy during his run to the fourth round when he spat in the direction of a "disrespectful" fan during his first-round win over Paul Jubb.

    But Kyrgios claimed his antics serve to drive interest in the sport, adding: "It's amazing, everywhere I go I seem to have full stadiums.

    "The media loves to write that I'm bad for the sport, but clearly not."

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    Nadal saw off Sonego in straight sets and was in complete control for much of the third-round match, only briefly losing his composure when the Centre Court roof was closed following a lengthy plea from the 27th seed.

    When the contest resumed, Nadal – who had not faced a break point until that stage – was broken to love in a game in which he took issue with a noise Sonego made as he approached the ball.

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    Nadal then broke back and quickly wrapped up a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory, before the pair met again at the net.

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    "I feel very sorry if I bothered him – I just wanted to tell him something. I did it in a nice way, and I feel now really bad if I bothered him. I'm sorry for that.

    "That's it. I was talking to him, and now I'm going to talk to him, but this was not a problem, I don't think, at all."

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