For tennis players, as for everyone in reality, the change of year marks a transition that is basically fictitious because the calendar from one season to another overlaps more and more, so that what drags on from one course often leads to the other. From March to September 2022, Rafael Nadal suffered a costal fissure in Indian Wells, suffered pain in his left foot in Rome – dragging the problem also during Roland Garros, a tournament that was won by an infiltrator from start to finish – and underwent double treatment to bear the pain; then he tore his abdominal at Wimbledon in July, and that same muscle group tore again at the US Open in September. He reappeared two months later and from there to the end of the year he was only able to play four games, losing tone, edge and the necessary routine.
In between, the joy of fatherhood, the progressive return to calm and once all the potholes have been overcome, the fate of his career, a return to the charge in Australia. Renewed energy, restored spirits and the goal of prolonging his stay on the track as long as possible, something that is denied him time and time again. Consequently, he says, “the glass is filling up and at some point the water may come out”, although he specifies that he will keep trying. After only a couple of trials in Adelaide and a game and a half in Melbourne, already out of the first major by losing to Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-4 and 7-5, his physique shackles him again. Now it is the hip, in the absence of the definitive diagnosis to determine, and the red light comes on when the first three weeks of this 2023 have not even elapsed.
In other words, a new year but the same story for him, who as he turns 37 wants above all else to play and compete, but cannot find respite. His body, that frame that, in the same way that it has propelled him, has betrayed him too often, excessive punishment that he accumulates, he has not just allowed it and sows more questions in this momentous year. After seriously contemplating retirement in the spring and finding some medical consolation for his foot, at least so far, Nadal will approach the coming months as a final test to decide. His desire is to continue playing, as he expresses and insists, but as long as he can enjoy the routine of the circuit normally, and not in sips.
There are too many days on the reservation and the divan. The mind, as armored as his, draws some cracks that he tries to seal with the faith that at one point or another he will achieve the long-awaited continuity, that of feeling like a tennis player and living the circuit. He could not do it in 2021, seven tournaments played; nor in 2022, in which the counter stayed at 12. As he gained seniority, he began to talk about dosage, but the reality is that for some time Nadal no longer selects, but rather it is his body that dictates and decides directly for him . He commands the chassis, not the will. Since he had to give up the fight with Nick Kyrgios in the Wimbledon semifinals, the Spaniard has recorded fewer wins (5) than losses (8), and at the opening of the course he has lost (3) more than he has won (1, the premiere before the British Jack Draper).
“I’m tired, sad and disappointed”, he answers the question from EL PAÍS. “But I want to continue playing tennis and not take a step back, even though my feelings are bad,” continues the man from Manacor, penalized for the defeat against McDonald; from second to sixth place on the list, if he does not overtake any more player when the Open ends and the list is updated. “It is very difficult to get in shape if you have continuous breaks. I need to prevent long off-track time. I’ve spent seven months almost without playing and I can’t be away for a long time again. It would be difficult to find the rhythm and be competitive again, ”laments the 22-time champion, whose record is now threatened by the Serbian Novak Djokovic, whose fangs grew when he learned of the unexpected defeat of his great historical adversary.
It is the whiting that bites its tail: without linearity there is no spark, the game suffers and victory is resisted. The trainings help as a base, but they are not enough. Until he felt the sting in his side, Nadal tried to contain McDonald’s flat rackets without much luck, also hurt by his gaps with the service. The 27-year-old American, 65th in the world and who was only able to scratch him four games in the only precedent between the two, at Roland Garros in 2020, took the initiative and raised a full-fledged ordeal, conditioned in the end by injury . Every time something like this happens, victory carries an asterisk, but on this occasion the course of the duel conveyed the feeling that if the American had continued, he offered stronger arguments to win it.
Rifts in the game
“He was in a more advantageous position than me, without a doubt, but there was a lot of game left too. I think he was getting closer and understanding the things he had to do to turn the situation around. We can talk and think about the and yes… But I don’t like that conjecture very much”, stated the tennis player, who in his last appearances –both in the last ones of the previous year and the three of this one– has managed to fight as equals, but that in some key moments he has not finished come up with the solutions. He did do it in November against Ruud and in his debut against Draper, not against Fritz, Auger-Aliassime, Norrie and De Miñaur in the rest of the games. This means that the lack of confidence palpably diminishes his game.
“I needed to spend days on the circuit and these three weeks have been positive. At least I have been able to recover many things at the level of mobility and competitiveness ”, he stressed from that intermediate line for which he has always bet, neither very low when they come badly nor euphoric when he has signed great hits.
In any case, Nadal knows that he cannot lose any more time because the middle class of the circuit has gained ground and the youngsters, now yes, push hard. It is a question of physique and head, yes, but also of tennis. Forced to compete in bursts at Bercy, Turin, Adelaide and Melbourne, his performance has progressed, but the level displayed in his return is far from the best version of him. Added to this is the fact that he has encountered quality adversaries, some consolidated, others effervescent and others emerging. It now remains to know the extent of this latest loss and if he can complete the plans that he and his team had outlined: Doha (from February 20 to 26), Dubai (from March 27 to 4), an exhibition in Las Vegas with Carlos Alcaraz (day 5)… Everything remains up in the air, at the expense of his body.
Out of breath, the Spaniard needs to definitely find a straight line without mines, some peace. In any case, he gives himself a margin, he has not lost his appetite despite the lashes received and sends a message: “I am going to continue fighting and I am not giving up anything. It’s the beginning of the year.”
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