Washington, Jul 31 (EFE).- Hundreds of fans were on hand here Saturday to watch Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal practice for his first-ever performance in the upcoming Citi Open, a tune-up for the US Open.
World No. 3 Nadal and his coach, Francis Roig, started the session before the scheduled time and watched as spectators streamed into the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.
“Welcome, Rafa!,” and “Washington loves you,” people in the stands called out in Spanish, cheering for good shots as if it were an actual match.
Seeking to make the most of their star attraction, tournament organizers are allowing fans into several of Nadal’s practice sessions throughout the weekend during the Citi Open’s qualifying rounds.
Nadal’s official debut in the tourney is set for next Wednesday, when he will takes on the winner of a first-round match pitting American Jack Sock against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
The Spaniard will be competing for the first time since a four-set defeat at the hands of Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the French Open on June 11, when the 13-time champion suffered just the third loss of his illustrious career at Roland Garros.
Shortly afterward, the 35-year-old announced that he had chosen to withdraw from both Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics, saying in a statement that he had made the decision after “listening to his body” following “the always demanding clay court season.”
“The goal is to prolong my career and continue to do what makes me happy, that is to compete at the highest level and keep fighting for those professional and personal goals at the maximum level of competition,” Nadal tweeted.
In the past, Nadal has started his preparations for the final Grand Slam event of the season by taking part in the Canadian Open.
But he changed his plans this year, opting to arrive in North America earlier than usual and compete in Washington.
His next major objective will be the Aug. 30-Sept. 12 US Open, where Nadal will be seeking an Open Era record-tying fifth men’s singles title at Flushing Meadows and an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam men’s singles title.
Nadal and fellow all-time greats Djokovic and Roger Federer, both of whom will be competing in New York, currently share the men’s Slam record. EFE pamp/dr