His place in history was already assured. But on Sunday, for the 14th time in his career, Rafael Nadal managed to lift the Musketeers’ cup at arm’s length, before kissing it in front of a jubilant crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier at Roland-Garros.
The feat is phenomenal. “Phenomenal”, even, as some tennis fans like to say. And he got it thanks to the incomparable resistance of the Asturian, who not only beat a high table, but also his left foot bruised by an incurable syndrome to get there.
That yes, ‘Rafa’ will not have had to make an effort this Sunday to overcome the Norwegian Casper Ruud, having taken the appearance of a ghost during this dryly closed final by 6-3, 6-3, and 6-0 in 2 hours. 8min
But the king of the place will have had to do it often during this Parisian fortnight. Especially against Quebecer Félix Auger-Aliassime, who forced him to play the fifth round at Porte d’Auteuil for the fourth time in his career.
Then in the quarterfinals against Serbian Novak Djokovic, number 1 in the world and his greatest rival, whom he faced for 59me times of his career.
And finally, against the German Alexander Zverev, whom he only led by one round – he almost miraculously won – after almost 3 hours of play, when the third player in the world seriously injured his ankle.
“It is very difficult to describe how I feel. I didn’t think I could be there, at 36 years old, competitive again in the biggest tournament of my career. It gives me a lot of energy to keep going,” Nadal said in his speech on the pitch after many questioned the rest of his career in recent days.
“He destroyed me”
On Sunday, against the young Ruud, 23, who was playing his first Grand Slam final, “the king of clay” did not have to present his best tennis to succeed.
Even if he loves this area himself, the Norwegian has never managed to unleash the game that brought him to this final encounter. His tense, by his confession, was broken from the start in each of the innings.
“It was very difficult, the latter admitted at a press conference. He knew it would be, just look at the numbers. But he destroyed me on the pitch.
Ruud had a burst of pride at the start of the second set, and in turn, broke Nadal to take a 3-1 lead. But visibly in great form, the Spaniard began walking it from left to right again, before finishing several points along the way, to move a little closer to the crowning.
Sacre confirmed on the service of his rival of the day, after a third set that lasted just 30 minutes. Contrary to his routine in the past, the “ochre ogre” did not lie on the ground once his victory was in his pocket.
She modestly waved her arms in the air, her eyes moist with emotion.
“I never dreamed of achieving the things I did,” said the fifth seed. Honestly, I have never considered myself so good. That yes, it is a surprise: if you are not surprised to win 14 Roland-Garros it is because you are super arrogant!
A record, again
These 14 titles constitute a record. It has been 10 years since Nadal erased Sweden’s Bjorn Borg’s mark of six.
But to grasp the full scope of the feat, we must remember that American Pete Sampras won 14 major trophies in his entire career… and that one would have thought at the time of his retirement that this mark would never be surpassed.
This triumph in Paris is also the 22nd of the Spaniard’s career in Grand Slam, two more than Djokovic and the Swiss Roger Federer.
At 36, despite a foot injury that required injections during the tournament, he also achieved the Australia-Roland-Garros “International” double for the first time.
“For me, having this trophy by my side once again means everything and it’s very exciting,” admitted Nadal. It is the most moving of victories, the most unexpected in a way.
Injections and interrogations
Rafael Nadal’s left foot was so battered during the Roland-Garros fortnight that the champion received injections to ease the pain before each match.
A stratagem that the Spaniard no longer wants to repeat and that forces him to question the rest of his career. Because one of those alternatives would be a surgery that involves a long convalescence and that does not guarantee that he will continue to be competitive afterward.
Without injections, Nadal, therefore, does not know if he will be at Wimbledon, although he wholeheartedly wants to play the legendary tournament that he has won twice at the end of June.
“I will be at Wimbledon if my body is ready to play Wimbledon,” said “Rafa” at a press conference. […] But of course, I can’t keep playing tournaments with my foot asleep. So, now, we’ll have to go back to the artboard.
Since the age of 18, Nadal has suffered from Müller-Weiss syndrome, “a chronic and incurable pathology” that causes constant pain in the upper part of the foot, Agence France-Presse explained this weekend.
unable to walk
To counteract this evil, the 36-year-old player takes painkillers. But in Paris, to win this 14me title opted with a doctor for a more radical solution.
Because after his second-round match against Frenchman Corentin Moutet, Nadal couldn’t even walk, he told French television on Sunday.
“My doctor was able to put an anesthetic on my nerves and that takes away all the sensations in my foot,” explained the champion. At the same time, it is a higher risk. As we have less sensation, the risk of spraining our ankle is greater.
Find a solution
With his doctor, Nadal will try in the next week to find another solution to cut the pain. If he succeeds, whoever regains fourth place in the world today could be present on the pitch of the All England Club.
In recent days, ‘Rafa’ had created a blur that surrounded the rest of his career. Refusing to talk about his pain after the games, he said that he would talk about what happened after the tournament.
Nadal, however, has never hidden the fact that for some time he has been playing each game as if it were his last… because he feared it would be.
“I like tennis”
In his speech on the Philippe-Chatrier, a few minutes after defeating the Norwegian Casper Ruud, ‘the ogre of the ochres’ did not promise to be back on this court that he loves so much, next year. But he assured me that he “will continue to fight.”
When asked by journalists what was driving him forward, despite his 14 Roland-Garros titles and 22 Grand Slams, Nadal gave this answer:
“The idea is not to be the best in history and win all the victories. It’s because I love playing tennis and I love the competition. […] It’s about having moments that will stay with me forever and playing in front of the best crowds and the best stadiums in the world.”
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