October 3, 2022

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — It was impossible not to think about what’s in store for Rafael Nadal, while watching him sigh as he explained how “very sad” he was to pull out of the Wimbledon semifinals because of a an abdominal muscle tear.

It was impossible not to think back to just a month ago, when Nadal at 36 became the oldest champion in French Open history, then expressed doubts about whether he would run. even at the All England Club due to chronic pain in his left foot which required anesthetic injections just to be able to play in Paris.

And it was impossible not to think back to a year ago on Center Court, when Roger Federer walked out after a Wimbledon quarter-final defeat, clearly compromised by a recalcitrant right knee that would soon require a third surgery in the space of about 18 months. . Federer, who turns 41 in a month, hasn’t played a game since.

These two exceptional athletes, forever linked as rivals and greats of the game, could be at different stages of the end of their careers, but one can’t help but wonder if Nadal’s recent struggle to stay healthy – he also missed time this season with a rib injury and the second half of last season with his foot – could affect how much he is willing to keep pushing his body.

At some point, both will be gone from the sport. As will, at some point, fellow member of the so-called Big Three, Novak Djokovic, who achieved his men’s record 32nd Grand Slam title match by beating Cam Norrie 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday in what became the solitary men’s semifinal.

“I don’t think anyone is capable of filling those shoes, to be honest with you,” said Nick Kyrgios, the player who benefited from Nadal’s withdrawal and advanced to his first Grand Slam final. “We will never see a competitor like Rafa again. You will never see someone wielding a racket like Roger, so easily. You will probably never see someone who wins and plays the game as well as…Djokovic.

Nadal holds a men’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles, two ahead of Djokovic, who is 35, and Federer.

“It will be a sad day,” Kyrgios said, “when they leave.”

Nadal was asked if he made the right choice by continuing to play against Taylor Fritz in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, hanging on for five full sets over nearly 4.5 hours, despite feeling pain from the start of the first set.

He said a few remarkable things in response.

He’s sure it made sense to keep playing, because he could – reality proves the possibility, after all – and, of course, he won.

He’s not someone who likes to quit once a match starts (he’s done it three times in 351 Grand Slam matches, nine times in 1,275 in his entire career).

He is not someone who questions his past choices, although he will try to learn from his mistakes.

He’s proud to have finished that game, but once he had more information on Thursday about the extent of the injury, he made what he called a “decision with your health and your future”.

Nadal hopes he can resume groundstroke practice in about a week; the service will have to wait, but he always postulated that the abdominal problem could sideline him for only about a month. He thinks he can stick to a schedule that includes the US Open, the last Grand Slam tournament of the year, which begins on August 29.

“As I’ve always said, for me the most important thing is happiness, more than any title, even though everyone knows how much effort I put in to be here,” said Nadal. “But I can’t risk this game and stay two, three months out of competition, because it’s going to be a difficult thing for me.”

He said he wasn’t at all concerned about trying to chase a calendar-year Grand Slam – going 4 for 4 at the sport’s four major championships – even though he won both. first rounds at the Australian Open and the French Open for the first time in 2022.

Instead, he insisted, “I thought about my daily happiness and my daily work.”

The question for him, and for the rest of us, is how long he can stay healthy enough to work and compete happily.

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Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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