Rafael Nadal will return to Flushing Meadows for his US Open fourth-round clash with Gilles Muller tomorrow hoping to make the headlines for what happens on the court rather than off it.
The defending champion was impressive in beating David Nalbandian 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 7-5 yesterday, playing by far his best match on hard courts this summer, but that was not what made the headlines.
Instead, Nadal’s press conference came to an abrupt halt when, in the middle of answering Spanish questions, he began grimacing and clutched his right thigh.
The 25-year-old was suffering from cramp in both his quad muscle and hamstring and dramatically slid off his chair onto the floor while the physio was hastily sent for and all journalists cleared out of the room.
Nadal received treatment for a good 10 minutes lying on the floor behind the desk in the main interview room before getting to his feet somewhat gingerly.
The Spaniard then resumed his press conference, explaining the problem with a rather embarrassed grin as the video was being shown on TV and on the internet around the world.
Speaking in his native tongue, Nadal said: “It’s just bad luck that it happened in public. It was really hot, I ran a lot and you sweat a lot in these conditions.”
All the talk during the past week has been of the number of withdrawals – a grand slam record 14 during matches – but Nadal was certainly the first player at the tournament to require the trainer mid-press conference.
Andy Murray thought it was not that unusual an occurrence.
“I don’t think it’s odd that someone’s cramping,” he said.
“I’m sure a lot of people were surprised because it was him that was cramping, but Rafa’s human. I think some people forget that sometimes.
“I think around midday loads of people were struggling with the heat. He very rarely plays that early.
“So if you mess up like your eating or get it wrong or you’re drinking wrong before the match – and from the parts of the match I saw today he did quite a lot of running, as well – you can get yourself in a bad way in these conditions.
“I’m glad he’s all right, but I’m sure it was a bit of a shock for him.”
Andy Roddick also played down Nadal’s drama, saying: “Not to put a dampener on the story, which I know you guys think is really big, but people cramp after matches when you’re cold. It’s just something that happens.
“It’s just unfortunate it happened in front of you all. Every single player in there has had that happen before. Every single one.
“What we do, we run around, run miles and miles and miles and miles on the tennis court in nasty weather. You throw nerves in there, I mean, it happens. As long as it doesn’t happen during a match, you’re fine.
“I heard about it. They were telling me it was like this whole thing and people were surrounding him. I started laughing. I saw Rafa and he was laughing about it later on.”
Nadal will return to the practice courts today but 2009 champion Juan Martin Del Potro is on his way home, beaten by Gilles Simon yesterday in his first defeat at Flushing Meadows for three years following the wrist injury that ruled him out last season.
Today’s schedule sees Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Mardy Fish all in action in the day session while the night matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium are between Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Roger Federer and Juan Monaco.