Express News Service
CHENNAI: “In a match that began in May and ended in June,” as The Guardian noted, Rafael Nadal showed why the December of his career remains profitable. Months after suffering a stress fracture in his rib and weeks after questioning his own future, the 35-year-old arguably claimed one of his most significant victories to move to the semifinal at Roland Garros.
Coming into the quarterfinal as an outsider against Novak Djokovic, the 13-time Major winner on clay started fast before producing a clinic on how to finish a match to win 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4 ). The 4 hour 12-minute affair wasnt always thrilling to watch but there was layer upon layer of tension and intrigue. For an extended period of time, unforced errors were the king as both players scratched to build momentum and rhythm.
While the Serb will ruin the fact that he wasn’t able to produce in the moments that really mattered, Nadal will not care one iota about how this win was got.
Battling injuries and managing specific chronic conditions like the ‘Mueller Wise Syndrome’, a degenerative foot issue that’s caused the Spaniard significant discomfort in recent weeks, he was supposed to be irrelevant in Paris in 2022.
Even if the Parisian Clay has been the backdrop to some of his biggest triumphs, this May and, if his foot held up, June, was seemingly about dipping his foot in the water. Would his much-repaired body stand the test of two-week, best-of-five tennis on a brutal surface?
It was also about something more fundamental. Considering Nadal’s style, he has known for a long time that he’s closer to the end than ever before. That being the case, it was about doing what he did best inside the tennis court: prepared to struggle and fight from the first service game to the last service game. The injuries have left him so scarred he didn’t know — still doesn’t know — if he would walk into a court for a match as an active player and leave it as a former player.
One could see that in his Round of 16 matches against Felix Auger-Aliassime. Nadal may have well lost that match — heck he was down a match point — but he pulled through because of his sheer mental fortitude. Cliche alert. The match essentially showed what made Nadal greater than the sum of his parts. The intangible aspects of his game (undying belief, courage amid adversity and will to fight) were as good as the tangible aspects of his game: those rasping forehand down the line drives, crosscourt winners from behind the baseline and converting defense into attack within two strokes.
After the match against Djokovic, on-court emcee, Marion Bartoli, informed Nadal that he had been on court for 252 minutes. He turned around, looked back at the clock and his eyes betrayed a sense of ‘oh wow, I played for that long?’
One can understand why. Two weeks ago in Rome, he had turned philosophical. “I am living with an injury,” he had said. “My day by day is difficult. I imagine there will come a time when my head will say ‘enough’. Pain takes away your happiness, not only in tennis but in life. And my problem is that many days I live with too much pain.”
It was a reminder, if the world ever needed one, that he’s considering retirement. That’s what made Tuesday extra special. Forget all the noise surrounding 14 and 21.