The top seed was disappointed to lose a tough three-setter against the fearless South African in front of a raucous Washington crowd that was fully behind the Spaniard. But after feeling pain in his left foot during his second-round win against Jack Sock on Wednesday, Nadal felt better against Harris.
“The most positive thing is my foot was better today than yesterday, so that’s the best news possible,” Nadal said. “I played against a player that played well. For the moment, I think I played better than yesterday, but in the third when I had opportunities, the truth is his serve was huge and I played this last game really badly.”
Nadal was very much in the match as he served at 4-5 in the decider. Up until that point, he was the only one to earn a break point in the third set. But Harris seized the moment and upset the World No. 3, finishing the job with a perfect lob.
“You can’t have mistakes in the key moments, and in the key moments I think in the last game, I was a little bit more nervous. My serve was not working the proper way,” Nadal said. “That’s it. Yes, well done for him. It’s a great victory for him. I wish him all the very best.”
This was Nadal’s first tournament since Roland Garros. The Spaniard admitted before the Citi Open that he went 20 days without playing tennis due to his left foot injury, which kept him out of Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics. So it was a major positive that Nadal made progress on that front on Thursday.
“I was able to move a bit better, so that is very important, especially for me personally, to keep enjoying the sport and keep having energy, believing that important things are possible,” Nadal said. “And then I need to keep improving. It’s true. I honestly didn’t have two easy months. I had a lot of problems with my foot. I was not able to practise all the days that I really wanted, but I did as much as I could and I tried hard here.”
Nadal had never previously played or visited Washington. Throughout the week, the 88-time tour-level titlist was highly complimentary of the city — which he toured on a bike — and its people, who cheered loudly for him during his two matches.
“The most painful thing is [to] not be able to be on court again tomorrow in front of this amazing crowd,” Nadal said. “But I take a great experience [with] me. I was able to know a new city, for me a very important one. I enjoyed [it], and the support and the love of the people will stay [with] me.”
The 35-year-old apologised for his loss, calling out his “amazing” experience in the capital of the United States. But a victory was not to be against Harris.
“I tried very hard, as everybody knows. But [it] was not enough. [The] only thing I can do is congratulate my opponent and just keep going,” Nadal said. “I’m going to keep trying to practise the proper way and to give myself a chance to be better soon.”
The legendary lefty is set to compete in next week’s National Bank Open Presented by Rogers in Toronto, where he can break a tie with Novak Djokovic for the most ATP Masters 1000 titles (36 each). The Spaniard has won the Canadian Masters 1000 event five times.
“For me [the important thing] is just [to] keep going. Accept the challenge that I need to keep working, and I’ll probably have another chance next week in Toronto,” Nadal said. “I’m going to keep trying my best.”