Rafael Nadal has recovered from an unusual self-inflicted facial injury to book his spot in the third round of the US Open courtesy of a four-set win over Fabio Fognini.
Nadal’s quest for a 23rd Grand Slam title remains alive after overcoming a slow start and late drama to go 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in two hours and 42 minutes – to seal victory over the Italian.
The 36-year-old lost the opening set and was 4-2 down in the second frame before responding in characteristic fashion, winning 16 of the next 19 games to set up a third-round meeting against Richard Gasquet.
Things were far from smooth for the Spaniard, who fell late in the competition in the most unusual of circumstances.
Drama erupted as Nadal led 3-0 in the fourth set as the Spaniard stretched to return a shot from Fognini but then stopped in the middle and latched onto his face.
Fognini looked at a loss as Nadal approached him at the net before explaining to the chair umpire that he had blood running from his nose.
The Spaniard lay motionless on his back off the pitch when worried gasps were heard across Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Replays soon revealed Nadal had accidentally hit himself in the nose with his own racquet after it bounced off center court.
In his desperate lunge to land a backhand return, the 22-time Grand Slam champion’s racquet hit the court and slammed into his face as he leaned down.
The fear on the 36-year-old’s face was evident and Nadal turned away in pain as soon as the racquet touched his nose.
The game was suspended for a few minutes when Nadal took a medical time-out to allow medical staff to treat the injury.
The bizarre incident sparked a wave of support for Nadal on social media, with fans wishing him a speedy recovery.
After putting a bandage on his nose, Nadal returned to court as normal service resumed.
The Spaniard eventually lost that game but didn’t drop another game as he improved his 2022 Grand Slam record to 21-0.
Rafael Nadal’s quest for 23rd Grand Slam lives on
When asked if this had happened to him before, Nadal managed a giggle and said, “With a golf club, but not a tennis racquet.”
However, despite initial complaints, the world No. 3 said the injury wasn’t too serious.
“Well, just a bit dizzy at first,” Nadal replied when asked about the nose injury.
“A little painful.”
Nadal has won four of his 22 Grand Slam titles at the US Open, most recently in 2019 when he last competed in the hard court tournament.
With great rival Novak Djokovic unable to play in New York, Nadal hopes to capitalize on that by claiming his 23rd major title at Flushing Meadows.
The four-time US Open champion found himself in trouble after losing the first frame, with Fognini converting his two break points before a wild seven-break second set.
Fognini looked 4-2 on his way to a two-set lead but 23 unforced errors in set number two let him down and Nadal’s pressure mounted.
The Spaniard’s game improved a notch in the third game, improving his first-serve percentage to 75 percent and missing just five unforced errors.
Nadal carried that momentum through the fourth set, where he broke Fognini in games two and six before serving it.
click here to sign up for our newsletter with the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.