Nadal: Driven by the love for the game, still


Rafael Nadal, also in ecstasy with his fourteenth title at Roland Garros.Image REUTERS

A collective sigh of relief passes through Court Philippe Chatrier as Rafael Nadal utters the last words of his victory speech. After he has thanked his team, the fans, organization and ball boys, there is the liberating announcement. ‘I don’t know what the future will bring. But I’ll keep fighting to keep going.’

In the run-up to his fourteenth title at Roland Garros, the rumor became more and more persistent: on the spot where the 36-year-old Spaniard conquered his first grand slam title seventeen years ago, he would announce his farewell. For two weeks he had cleverly sidestepped questions about his future and chronic foot injury.

But with the Coupe des Mousquetaires in his hands, Nadal refused to make a final bow, although it is impossible to predict whether the record champion will ever return to Paris. The number five in the world probably doesn’t know it either. His physical constitution is too fragile for that. “As the circumstances are now, I cannot and will not continue.”

Anesthetic Injections

After his decisive victory in the final against Norwegian Casper Ruud (6-3, 6-3, 6-0) Nadal confessed that he had played with narcotic injections for two weeks. Without feeling in his left foot, the record champion prepared his impressive and impressive list of honors: fourteen final victories in Paris and 22 grand slam titles in total.

It is two more than his eternal rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, whom he defeated in a blistering quarterfinal in Paris. Federer, 40, is still recovering from knee surgery. Nadal: ‘It’s not about records or about being the best tennis player ever. It is the love for the sport that drives me. I like the competition and I like to play tennis.’

But the Spaniard is no longer willing to pay any price for it. ‘If you don’t have feeling in your foot, it increases the chance of other injuries. I wanted to take that risk once, because Roland Garros is the most important tournament for me. But I don’t intend to play with anesthetic injections again.’

Either way, Nadal will be picky about choosing the tournaments he’ll enter. In the past six months, he proved that playing fewer matches does not have to be a disadvantage for him. In the run-up to Roland Garros, he played only five matches on clay. He said he had never been so ill-prepared.

And also at the Australian Open in January the question was how good he would be. The same chronic foot injury had sidelined him six months earlier. But Nadal took advantage of the absence of the unvaccinated Djokovic and triumphed in Melbourne against all odds. Never before has he won both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in one season.

Overexploitation

If anyone has proven several times that he should never be written off too early, it is the tough Spaniard. Injuries have been in his shadow throughout his career. From his knees to his back and from his wrist to his foot. It is the result of the robbery he committed on his body.

Nadal’s game is based more on strength than on flexibility. He prefers to go into endless rallies with his opponents, no matter how great the wear and tear on his body. For a while, his coaches tried to make him play shorter runs, but that didn’t go as planned. He prefers to play every point as if it were his last.

The beast in him still awakens when he gets into trouble, as Djokovic and Alexander Zverev experienced in Paris. As usual, Nadal played his best tennis with his back against the wall. Suddenly the magic balls were there again when he needed them more than ever. How was it possible that he managed to get rid of four set points in the semi-final against Zverev, who had to give up injured not much later?

Treatment foot

Wimbledon starts in three weeks, but it remains to be seen whether Nadal will be present in London. In the coming week, he will go with his doctors to see if there is a treatment that will reduce the pain in his foot for a longer period of time. “The idea is to burn my nerve a little bit,” Nadal said of the method the doctors have in mind.

‘If the treatment works, I want to participate. If the treatment doesn’t work, then it becomes a different story and I have to ask myself whether I still think it’s worth it to have an operation, for example, without getting guarantees to return to my old level.’

He’s willing to play with anti-inflammatories. But there’s no way he’ll put another injection in his foot to go on the hunt for his 23rd Grand Slam title. “I don’t want to put myself in that position again.”

In the run-up to the won final against Ruud, the number eight in the world, Nadal already said that he would rather have a new foot than another grand slam title. After his victory, he repeated those words once more. “My tennis career has always been a priority, but never determined the happiness in my life.”

4 games

Only Roger Federer suffered an even bigger defeat against Rafael Nadal in the final of Roland Garros than Casper Ruud. The Swiss won just four games in 2008, losing 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 (Nadal won their other three finals in four sets). Stan Wawrinka made as many games in 2017 as Ruud on Sunday: six. He lost 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.