Tennis

Rafael Nadal has injury scare at Miami Open; Serena Williams expects to play

Rafael Nadal grimaces after tripping during a practice session at the Miami Open in Key Biscayne on Monday, March 23, 2015.
Rafael Nadal grimaces after tripping during a practice session at the Miami Open in Key Biscayne on Monday, March 23, 2015. El Nuevo Herald

The 2015 Miami Open started with a bit of a scare, when No. 2 seed and fan favorite Rafael Nadal tripped during a hitting session with Grigor Dimitrov and fell to the court late Monday morning.

He appeared to roll his left ankle, took off his shoe and sock, and walked off the court gingerly. But within an hour, there was no noticeable limp as he headed to his car in the parking lot. His press agent, Benito Perez Barbadillo, said Nadal was OK and expected to play later this week.

That was good news for tournament organizers and fans, who already will be missing Roger Federer, who skipped the event to train for the clay season. Serena Williams, the world No. 1, withdrew from the Indian Wells (California) semifinals last Friday with a knee injury, but she told Miami Open officials she is being evaluated Tuesday and plans to play in Key Biscayne.

Williams is scheduled to begin defense of her title at 8 p.m. Friday against the winner of the match between Shelby Rogers and Monica Niculescu.

The other big news on the tournament grounds Monday was the long-awaited return of towering 6-6 Argentine star Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion whose career has been derailed by wrist injuries.

Del Potro missed 10 months last season, made a brief comeback in January to play a few matches in Sydney, Australia, but withdrew from the Australian Open and hasn’t played since.

He underwent a second surgery on his left wrist, and his right wrist is also surgically repaired. His ranking has slipped from No. 4 in November of 2010 to No. 616, but del Potro said he doesn’t care. He is just happy to be playing again. He chose to come back at the Miami Open for a reason. His first match is Thursday against Vasek Pospisil of Canada.

It is “Delpo’s“ first match here since 2013.

“I decided to come back here because the atmosphere for me feels special,” del Potro said Monday. “I feel local here. There are so many Argentine fans, Latino American people around, everybody talking Spanish. For me and other Argentine players, this tournament is very special.”

Del Potro, 26, said his long layoff has been extremely frustrating — and at points deeply “depressing.” He said it was difficult to watch tennis on TV.

“I was thinking very bad things during my rehabilitation,” he said. “My family and team were all supporting me, but in the end, the tennis player feels alone. I couldn’t play tennis, and that’s my love, my passion. I saw everybody working on his job, doing what they want to do, and I’m home trying to fix my wrist.”

But he managed to pull himself together.

“I still believe in myself,” he said. “I always wanted to win another Grand Slam, be top 3, maybe No. 1. Now, I just want to play tennis again. My goal changes every year because I don’t know what could happen physically. For now, I’m happy to play my first match.

“I’m so excited to be here doing interviews again, seeing the fans’ faces. It doesn’t matter if I will be top 10 or top 100. I don’t care about ranking. I just want to hit my backhand without pain and finish my match healthy. If I win, even better.’’

He said he has been hitting backhands for 10 days and feels his wrist getting stronger by the day.

“In 2009, I felt like the biggest player in the world after winning the U.S. Open,” del Potro said. “The next year, surgery, and all the good things go down. That moment was horrible, like the past few months this year. I hope to never stop again, this will be my biggest goal.”

▪ The Miami Open qualifying rounds began on Monday and continue Tuesday. Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, lost 6-4, 6-0 to Lin Zhu. Alejandro Falla of Colombia beat 17-year-old American wild card Michael Mmoh 6-2, 6-1.

American winners included Austin Krajicek, who beat Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3); Chase Buchanan, who won 6-4, 6-2 over James Ward of Great Britain; and Grace Min, who beat Edina Gallovits-Hall of Romania 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.

Sachia Vickery, a 19-year-old Haitian-American who grew up in Miramar, lost her first-round qualifying match 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 to Ana Konjuh, a powerful 17-year-old Croatian with a big game.

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