It’s a dog day in Melbourne, where the wind blows strongly and violently displaces the curtains of water that fall on the city from early in the morning. The panorama is ugly, but after noon the storm is even greater below the deck of the Australian headquarters, where Rafael Nadal feels a strong puncture in the height of his left side and writhes in pain, squatting curses and lamenting non-stop. He loses his gaze to the ceiling, bites his lower lip in rage and shakes his head towards his bench. It can’t be, not again. He has broken. Mackenzie McDonald already has a set in her backpack and in the second she dominates 4-3, and the rest (6-4, 6-4 and 7-5 at the end, after 2h 32m) is nothing more than a painful journey towards the tournament exit hatch. Today, however, that is the least of it.
For the moment, due to the chain of blows, does this last one hurt an extra? “He hurts as always, but in the end the glass fills up,” Nadal answers the question in this newspaper. “I have never been in a position to complain, life has given me so many positive things that I have no right to do so. However, it is clear that things are happening and the glass is filling up, and at some point the water can come out ”, he slides. “It hurt me more about the Wimbledon semifinals [en julio, apeado por una rotura abdominal], where he was prepared to win the tournament; Here it happened to me in the second round. But the truth is that I have not been able to finish the last three Grand Slams in good condition. I can come here with a good face and accept it, which I do, but you don’t have to fool yourself and make an optimistic speech when you are not.
At 36 years old, 37 on June 3, Nadal continues to face the constant attacks of his own physique, and his desire to have continuity does not find a match. “I can’t say he’s not mentally broken right now,” he admits in English. To the ills of last season he now adds another inopportune pang of soul, while since October he has been trying to pick up the pace and add games, but he has to slow down again. The need to compete is not accompanied by the collaboration of his body, eroded and, logically, increasingly brittle. Law of life. Farewell hurts in Melbourne, where last year he signed the impossible and this last episode ends with the shivers of the stands, who, seeing that he is still standing, believe for a few moments and rewind to Wimbledon, that feat in July against Taylor Fritz. Fleeting mirage.
The story had already started crookedly for him, uncomfortable before McDonald’s determined attack and complaining with the chair umpire, understanding that she pushes him excessively with the clock in each service and that the timer that delimits the serves [25 segundos de margen, dice el reglamento] start discounting ahead of time. “I can’t even take the towel, all the time the same; when I go for it, it’s already underway, ”he protests to the Serbian Marijana Veljovic, emphasizing her disagreement. “The towel is there [dice señalando hacia la esquina del fondo] and the clock already shows four or five seconds… You always do the same”, continues the Spaniard, who is not given a single moment of respite by his rival’s flat ball and who has to bail out water over and over again, a hostile scenario.
The complete sequence of the lesion of @Rafael Nadal
❌ The bad initial gesture
😓 The moment when you can’t stand the pain
😟 Concern for your team and family
😔 Desolation on the bench pic.twitter.com/HXcDOLpBAx
— Eurosport.es (@Eurosport_ES) January 18, 2023
McDonald, a 27-year-old American who ranks 65th in the ranking, he draws again and again looking for the angles and, above all, that the ball does not have flight to force the Spanish into a continuous retreat. Taking advantage of the fact that this ball does not sting or run over, he raseas and carves out a productive income that forces Nadal to go in tow all the time. After a few exchanges, the number two has already detected that it is going to be a tough day and that the flat shot that comes does a lot of damage. He loses service from the start and then a second turn, 4-1 down and with the feeling that he is going to have to row and a lot to turn the situation around, conceded the first set and the continuation looks very bad . Until then, the North American has been superior, with more bite.
Everything becomes much darker when going to the return, eighth game of the second quarter, the chassis fails and the sting makes him see the stars. He contracts, aches in the fetal position, feels himself with his left hand and looks at his box. “Pubis!”, precise. His family, his technicians and all those present do not give credit; tears escape his wife and the first medical examination on the track confirms that things are not going well, and a second one in the locker room does not change luck either. There’s no turning back. She’s broken, again. Mobility is very limited and he can’t hit the backhand well. “You have to give your best until the end, no matter what odds you have. It is the philosophy of sport, ”he preaches in the conference room.
In 2018 he already suffered another setback in Melbourne, quarterfinals against Marin Cilic; then, the iliopsoas – a gear between the leg and the hip – kept him out of the tournament in the fifth set. Before, in 2014, his back also played a very trick on him in the final against the Swiss Stan Wawrinka, although this time he managed to finish. On this occasion he also resists, but can only reply with a minimum proposal.
Even so, he pulls his wrist, McDonald is infected with the iciness that prevails in the center, losing the spark, and manages to scratch five games that actually mean a harrowing flight forward. The Australian stands cover him, but there is no return and the outcome translates into an agonizing countdown. Brave, resilient and exemplary in adversity, from wrist to wrist, he fights until the end and when the American fastens the pass to the third round, he heads down the locker room tunnel with his head spinning. He wants to play, but his physique only allows him to do it at a forced pace. He ended 2022 between questions – double abdominal tear at Wimbledon and the US Open – and the opening of the new year opens another important one. It is, once again, Nadal against his worst enemy: his body.
“I am tired, sad and disappointed. From here, when things progress, the right decisions will be made because I want to continue playing tennis, not take a step back. Although my current sensations are bad”, the 22-major champion was honest, who in the premiere on Monday was able to beat the British Jack Draper, despite giving up a set; “I needed to spend days on the circuit and these three weeks [en Australia] They have been positive, because I have been able to recover many things in terms of mobility and competitiveness, and I hope I will not have to be away for a long time again; so it is very difficult to get the shape. You need to play and if you continually have breaks, it becomes really difficult, even more so with advanced age.”
DANGEROUS FALL IN THE ‘RANKING’
AC | Melbourne
Nadal will undergo the relevant tests to find out the exact extent of his injury and thus define his roadmap. Initially, the tennis player had the intention of competing in Doha (from February 20 to 26) and later in Dubai (from March 27 to 4), but he will maneuver depending on the result. Doctor Ángel Ruiz-Cotorro did a first examination on Wednesday and when he returned home, the Spaniard will obtain a more conclusive diagnosis.
The defeat against McDonald supposes a reduction in the world list of the ATP; Specifically, the Spaniard falls directly from second to sixth place, losing almost the 2,000 points he earned last year with the title. He could fall further if some of the players still in the field manage to progress up the draw. The last time he was not on the top-5 It was January 10, 2022, one year ago.
At the beginning of March (day 5) he has scheduled an exhibition in Las Vegas with Carlos Alcaraz, and that month theoretically he would have the challenge of equaling or bettering the record in Indian Wells, where he played the final. The loot obtained in Acapulco will be subtracted from him (he will not play there), so he is exposed to a dangerous situation, since depending on the performance he could leave the top-10something that has not happened since July 2015. From then on, the Spaniard established a record of 904 weeks of permanence.
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