Rafael Nadal suffered one his tough losses of his career Sunday at the US Open, falling to 22-year-old Lucas Pouille 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6).
Nadal was blown out early with the Frenchman dictating from the baseline. But Nadal revved up his game to take the second. The see-saw continued and a fifth was forced, and it was Rafa getting the early break for 2-0. But Pouille, who had played two five setters leading into the match, fought back and took a 6-3 lead in the final set tiebreaker.
Nadal then brushed off three match points but at 6-6 he missed the easiest forehand of the match.
Nadal ends 2016 Grand Slam season without a singles quarterfinal appearance, the first time he’s done that since 2004. And his quaterfinal dought extends to six Slams.
After, Nadal met the press to talk about the match.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. In this incredibly long, tough match, what do you think the difference was?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I think he played a good match. He started so strong. I fight until the end with. There were things I could do better. Had the right attitude. I fighted right up to the last ball.
But I need something else, I need something more that was not there today. I going to keep working to try to find.
But, yes, was a very, very close match that anything could happen. Just congratulate the opponent that probably he played with better decision than me the last couple of points.
Q. You were a break up in the last set. You have so much experience…
RAFAEL NADAL: Experience, when you are 4-3 in the fifth, 30-Love, is not a question of experience, no? Is a question of play a little bit better than what I did. That’s it. A couple of mistakes there. Needed to play with a little bit more calm.
Is true that I don’t have lot of matches on my shoulders for the last three, four months, but even like this I lost an opportunity. That’s the real thing, no? That’s the true. I lost an opportunity to have a very good event here. I am sad for that.
But I fighted. I can play better. I can play worst. The only thing that cannot be bad is the attitude, no? Today the attitude was great. That’s it.
When somebody does as much as you can, then you need to find another things. I need to keep improving the level of tennis to be back where I was before the injury.
But in terms of energy, in terms of motivation, I was great. In terms of tennis, I need more. I needed to serve better in some moments. I needed to create more pain on the opponent with my shots, no? That was something that I didn’t make it today.
He played well. That’s it. You know, I didn’t play bad, but I didn’t play enough well. He played well. That’s it.
Q. You say you need to keep improving to get to back to where your game was. Where do you see your situation now? How would you assess where you are relative to the Rafa that you want to be?
RAFAEL NADAL: I don’t know. Every day is a different story. I was happy the way that I was playing, practicing the last couple of days. Then a lose cannot change the overall situation, no?
I am not a person that when I am winning I’m like this, when I am losing I am like this. (Indicating up and down). My life is stable. Just accept that these kind of things happen and keep working, no? That’s the only thing.
I have the motivation to keep working. Took a long time, a lot of hours, a lot of spirit of sacrifice to be back where I was before the injury this year. Was tough. And now I need to come back there.
I don’t start from zero. That’s a positive thing. I am closer than last year to be where I want to be. I have a few months to finish the season, to try to be qualified for the World Tour Finals. That will be a good effort if I make that happen after two months and a half without competition. I going to fight for it. That’s all.
Q. Sometimes when you don’t have the results you would like to have it’s been physical problems; sometimes maybe more mental when you don’t have enough confidence on yourself because of some losses and so on. What do you think is right now more the moment? There were problems in the last few years.
RAFAEL NADAL: In the last few years? In the last few years — I played I think the quarterfinals last year in Australia; I played the quarterfinals in Roland Garros that I lost against Djokovic; I played a bad Wimbledon. I lost here a match with break up in the third and fourth and the fifth in the Grand Slam.
This year I played bad match in Australia, and I didn’t lose in Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Today I lost with a chance to be in the quarterfinals having a lot of chances.
You can see it or you can write the way that you want. I know what’s going on. I know what I have to do. When you are able to play semifinals of Masters 1000s, winning tournaments like Barcelona, playing good tournaments in the other events, is not a question of level to be in the final rounds of the Grand Slams, no?
Is just a couple of things that for some reasons didn’t happen, and you need to be ready to have the auto-critic. You need to be auto-critic. Is something that I believe really going to change.
Q. Mental or physical?
RAFAEL NADAL: Mental or physical doesn’t matter. I am out of the tournament. Physical, for sure no. I fight till the end. Of course was not a physical thing. Was not a mental thing. Was a terms of sport, and in sport you lose or you win. The opponent want to win the same like you.
When the opponent beat you, is not the time to find excuses is mental or physical. Doesn’t matter. The opponent was a little better than you. That’s it. You have to congratulate the opponent, go to the next tournament, the next practice, and try to be ready.
Q. You have had great results in the Olympics, Monte-Carlo, other tournaments. Do you feel it’s the pressure of Grand Slams, best-of-five, something that makes these tournaments tougher for you in the last couple years?
RAFAEL NADAL: After winning 14 and being in semifinals a lot of times, you feel that’s pressure?
Q. I’m asking you.
RAFAEL NADAL: I answered you. In 30 years old, after having the career that I have, is not a question of pressure.
Q. The ball at 6-All, that forehand in the tiebreak.
RAFAEL NADAL: Was a big mistake, yeah. But you are 6-All in the tiebreak. I played the right point. I put me in a position to have the winner and I had the mistake. That’s it.
You cannot go crazy thinking about these kind of things, no? You have a mistake. The opponent played a good point in the match point, and that’s it.
The problem is arrive to 6-All on the tiebreak of the fifth. I should be winning before. When you have 4-3, 30-Love, when you are there, is 50%. This time again is not on my side.
Q. What are your thoughts on Pouille’s game and his future?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I said the other day, no, he’s young. He’s a player that has all the shots. He’s a potential top 10 and good fight for the big things the next couple of years. If he’s able to keep playing well, keep improving.
Always is the same. In the careers of everybody is the same: you need to keep improving all the time. If you are able to make that happen, then you’re going to have success.
Q. You played against so many great players. What level do you think he is at right now for his age?
RAFAEL NADAL: I don’t know. I cannot predict the future today. He is 19 on the race of the year. That’s a great number. He’s in quarterfinals here. So probably he will be higher after here.
How old is he? 22?
RAFAEL NADAL: He’s in a good position. As I say, he’s in a good position to give him chances to be in the top 10 position fighting for bigger things. But everybody wants to do it. Not only Lucas going to have the motivation to do it. There is a lot of young players that want to do it, too.
I want to do it too, again. I believe that Roger will want to do it again. And Novak and Andy is still there. Nishikori. A lot of great players are still there, no?
Is a question of improving. For me the same. For everybody is the same, no? If you are able to keep improving, playing well the whole season with no injuries, you know, then you have a better chances.
Q. Are you at all surprised that he didn’t get tight in those last few points in the tiebreaker?
RAFAEL NADAL: No, no, no. He is a great player. Why you have to get tight? He’s 22. He has enough experience. He played for the last couple of years on the tour.
Q. This was a big moment.
RAFAEL NADAL: Is not to win Grand Slam. Is fourth round. If he wants to become a champion he cannot be tight in that moment. Especially when you are 22, when you are playing against a player that in theory you have nothing to lose, you have everything to win.
Is not a moment to be tight. Is a moment to play aggressive. I think he did, and he did very well.
Q. You just lost the match, but still is there a part of you that has pride and satisfaction that you were part of such a great event?
RAFAEL NADAL: Now I am not very satisfied, the real thing. (Smiling.) Losing in the fourth round after having a big chance to play a great event here, feeling myself ready for it, for sure I am not very satisfied, no? I am sad.
But that’s it. I give my best. I try my best. I fight until the last ball. I played with the right energy, and that’s it, no?
As I said before, when you give your best you can’t ask yourself more in terms of attitude, no? I need to improve in other things, but I going to do it.
Q. You played the Olympics with a bad wrist; had a troubled summer. You’ve come here and had some good games, but now unfortunately the tournament is over. Are you going to use this time to recover 100% the wrist, or are you going to be focusing more on your tennis because you believe that your wrist is okay?
RAFAEL NADAL: My wrist is improving a lot. I say that looks like the injury is at the end of the process. I am ready to keep playing. That’s what my body is asking me now.
Q. All losses are painful. This one, is it a bit less painful because of what you had to go through in the summer? It’s not excuses.
RAFAEL NADAL: Doesn’t matter if you go through injuries; doesn’t matter if you arrived with less preparation. At the end of the day, nobody remember that. You know, you lost in the fourth round and that’s it.
Q. But you do remember.
RAFAEL NADAL: For me, I don’t care. I lost an opportunity to play a great event. Doesn’t matter if I had the injuries or not, no? I didn’t play in Roland Garros; I didn’t play in Wimbledon. That’s an opportunities lost. Here again, another opportunity lost.
At the end of the day is not a moment, as I said before, to find excuses or to be less painful. Is a painful defeat because I believe myself, I feel myself ready for that match, ready for the tournament. That’s it.
We can find stories, but I lost. That’s the only thing that really matter now. I going to fight to change that. But is not less painful or more painful. Is a defeat. Is not the first one in my career; is not going to be for sure the last.
When you play sport, you accept that when you go on court you can lose, you can win. That’s part of the life. I’m happy to be playing again. That’s the most important thing. I’m happy that I feel myself again close to be hundred percent healthy.
If I am hundred percent healthy, I have the energy to keep going. I believe that I can have a couple of more good years.
Q. You said you feel better this year compared to last year. What is the biggest difference between last year and this year?
RAFAEL NADAL: This year I didn’t have no one mental problem. I was able to enjoy every practice. I was able to enjoy every match. Last year not. Last year for seven, eight months happened something strange in my mind. I was playing with stress. I was anxious. I didn’t enjoy.
When you are not enjoying doing what you do, then you have a problem. The problems in my mental part didn’t allow me to enjoy, and this year I’m enjoying. I’m enjoying every moment. The only thing that was a negative thing is I couldn’t compete in a moment that I was playing great.
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