August 12, 2022

IDuring the preparation for the French Open quarter-final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic last Tuesday, doubt surrounded Nadal before his biggest challenge. He was not in particularly good shape, narrowly surviving Félix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round. He was catching up after his recent rib stress fracture and competing after his chronic foot condition flared up. The match was scheduled for the night when his heavy topspin could be neutralized in cold, slow conditions.

The result of that game and everything that followed, with Nadal rising to win his 14th French Open title and his 22nd Grand Slam title, further underlines what he has shown for a long time. Regardless of his age, his own preparations, or the revelation that he played a two-week tournament with part of his foot under anesthesia, Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros transcends everything.

At the end of last season, when Djokovic was one game away from winning his fourth Grand Slam of the year at the US Open, he was optimally positioned to break the tie at three of 20 tournaments. adults and establish himself as the man of all times. chief. Instead, Nadal has now created a clear buffer between himself and his rivals, and is halfway to a season’s Grand Slam.

Rafael Nadal broke through the pain barrier in his epic quarter-final victory over Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Photography: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It would be a big talking point if it weren’t for how Nadal has continually downplayed him. When he was following Roger Federer, he used the same analogy dozens of times. “You can’t be frustrated all the time because the neighbor has a bigger house than you,” he said three years ago.

To his credit, Nadal has been consistent, even now that his own Grand Slam run is superior to that of these neighbours. He now says these debates aren’t all that important as he, Djokovic and Federer have each achieved things beyond their wildest dreams and reached a “very equal” level. His daily motivation comes from elsewhere.

“It’s about how much you love doing what you do or whether you don’t, so that’s another story, right?” he said. “But if you love what you’re doing, you keep going. Because, for example, if you like to go golfing, you continue to play golf. If I like playing tennis and if I can keep playing, I keep playing because I love what I do. So that’s it.”

Nadal vows to ‘keep fighting’ after winning 14th Roland-Garros title – video

In Spanish, Nadal developed this feeling: “I’ve said it a million times but I don’t get tired of saying it. The best satisfaction is always personal, more than a medal or anything else. Knowing that you’re striving to achieve your goals. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t. But you have the inner peace to go home knowing you’ve tried everything.

Despite the joy with which Nadal plays, enjoying an unexpected ‘golden’ moment so deep in his career, he is simultaneously filled with uncertainty. This contrast was particularly stark during his press conference, where he sat with the La Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy by his side after one of the great triumphs of his career, but for 40 minutes in two languages ​​he explained above all, in as much detail as he did. never discussed an injury, why he is so uncertain about his future due to the Müller-Weiss syndrome he suffers from in his foot.

Even Nadal has a limit to the pain he’s willing to inflict on himself in pursuit of success and so he’s not ready to block the nerves in his foot again in order to numb the pain. He is now looking for a solution, starting with radiofrequency ablation which he will attempt in the coming weeks, then major surgery which he says he will have to consider if that fails. In an interview with Onda Cero Radioestadio in Spanish, it was clear: “It may still be my last Roland Garros, but I will do everything to move forward.”

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The foundation of Nadal’s success for so long has been his attitude; his acceptance of every circumstance, the optimism and poise with which he faced adversity, and the outlook he kept under pressure. At 36, he takes on a completely different role. This will guide him both when he tries to prolong his career as long as possible, but also when he recognizes that he has reached his limits.

“My clear position is always that life prevails,” he said. “Of course, my tennis career has been a priority all my life, but it has never been a priority over my happiness.”