Rafael Nadal calls time on 2014 season after loss to Borna Coric in Basel

Rafael Nadal calls time on his 2014 season after a surprise loss to Borna Coric at the Swiss Indoors

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis in Basel

Rafael Nadal’s match with world No124 Borna Coric was an extraordinary from start to finish.

The two had practised together last season, at the invitation of Nadal, for it was already clear that the teenager had great energy and talent for one of such tender years. Still only 17, he last year won the US Open Junior title, reached the semis of the Junior Australian and French Opens and the quarters of Junior Wimbledon.

And this year, Coric was proving his worth, too. He became the first 17-year-old to reach two ATP quarter-finals in a single season since Nadal himself reached the final in Auckland and the quarters in Estoril in 2004. This July, Coric reached his first Tour-level quarter in Umag and also won his maiden title at Challenger level. So from outside the top 300 at the start of the year, he has burst through the 200s—his declared target—and should be inside the top 100 in the very near future.

In Basel, he impressed the crowd immediately with courageous yet mature defeats of Ernests Gulbis and Andrey Golubev, and he was clearly up for the battle with Nadal, taking the attack to the Spaniard.

But it looked straight away as though things were amiss with Nadal—and the fact that he had announced his withdrawal from the Paris Masters next week earlier in the day suggested all was not well. The errors flowed under the baseline and serving pressure of the teenager, and Nadal was quickly two breaks down and 0-5.

The Basel crowd was almost silent in shock, but the apparently nerveless Coric did show some nerves to be broken when serving out the set. He made no mistake the second time, taking the lead, 6-2.

Nadal’s game improved in the second set, but he lacked his usual penetration and speed, and that seemed to give Coric even more confidence to play patiently through some long rallies before striking. The Croat fended off a break point to level at 4-4, and even with no more challenges remaining, took it to a tie-break. Nadal sprayed a couple of forehands long, bringing his tally of errors to 37, and that sealed the deal. With the biggest standing ovation of the week, Coric won the match of his life, 7-6(4).

But the shocks were far from over. Nadal arrived in press to announce that this would be his last match of the year. An injury-blighted season that started with back problems, took in a long break after Wimbledon with wrist problems, would end with surgery to remove the appendix that flared up during the Asian swing—Nadal’s first time back on tour.

The second seed had arrived to play in Basel with a fitness question-mark over his head, but asserted that he would see how things went and make decisions accordingly. It transpires that was not strictly the case: He had a date for surgery already planned, 3 November, but could fit in Basel before beginning medical treatment.

“It’s true that I wanted to do the surgery straight after Shanghai but that wasn’t possible. With all the antibiotics I took doctors told me I needed a few weeks to be without risk after the surgery,” said Nadal.

He had, he revealed, been on intravenous antibiotics for the three days and then double-strength oral meds for another week and a half.

He continued: “I’ve got a little bit tired of what happened the last five or six months. It’s been hard to play and compete when you can’t practise weeks in a row… So is the day to say goodbye for the season, is the day to say it was a good first six months of the season. It’s been hard since Australia with my back, then my wrist, then appendicitis. It’s been very hard for me mentally and physically too, so this is the time to say I will not play in Paris and London.

“I need to do the surgery, to work on my back a lot. Since Australia I am not 100 per cent recovered. I need five weeks to be right again. If I play the last two tournaments of the season, I am not going to be fit or competitive, so no chances to try to win. And without that, it is better to try to recover my body.”

The reason for the initial delay to surgery is to focus on back: “I have to do a few things on my back that takes time to recover. Then I want at the end of the season to try and work as much as I can to be fit for 2015, and the only way to be fit is to be healthy, and I’ve not been able to do that the last couple of months—and that’s been a little bit frustrating.”

Nadal plans to return, a fixed man, for Abu Dhabi at New Year, then Doha and the Australian Open. But for now, he makes his exit—and to his great credit, he still stopped and smiled for photos with fans on his way out.

Back in Basel, the unexpected story of Coric will continue with a semi-final against another young man who has enjoyed a breakthrough week in a breakthrough year by playing some beautiful, all-court tennis: David Goffin.

But not surprisingly, Coric take a few hours to enjoy the biggest win of his career: “It’s unbelievable for me. I just want to enjoy the moment. I’m just so surprised and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

The other semi-final will feature five-time champion Roger Federer, playing his best tennis of the week to beat Grigor Dimitrov, 7-6(4), 6-2, against the 6ft 11in Ivo Karlovic, another Croat who is a mere 18 years older than his compatriot in the other semi.

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