Nadal, for the lost happiness | Sports

At noon on Thursday, before Rafael Nadal expressed himself in his academy, a close friend of the tennis player slipped to this newspaper what the athlete himself would confirm four hours later: “He has tried by all means, but the tests did not finish coming out ; One day it was going well, but the next he wasn’t completely fine and he backed down, the maneuvers or blows didn’t work out for him, he didn’t quite feel comfortable… So it couldn’t be like that. At this point in his career, a player of his stature cannot afford to go to a place like Roland Garros for just two or three rounds, so the most sensible option is not to go to Paris; From there, he will speak later, and we’ll see how things turn out… ”.

Nadal spoke, and during the 50 minutes that his presentation and answers lasted, he did so clearly. Tired of fighting with time, with his own chassis and against the circumstances that elite exercise constantly demands, the athlete, about to turn 37, wanted to clear up any questions and removed the blindfold from all those who still trusted him. an express trip to the Bois de Boulogne, or those others who can wait for the umpteenth Resurrectionthe last great blow, the swim end: he will try, in the style of Michael Jordan and his Last Dance, But reality is what it is. Clear and meridian: that of an icon in its twilight phase. It happened with Serena Williams, then with Roger Federer and previously with many other figures.

“I am just one of many athletes, artists or actors who have closed a stage. And, in my case, I think we have been very happy; tomorrow everything will be different, but that does not mean that I will be less happy”, remarked the Spaniard, putting on the table a fundamental concept to understand the sequence of recent times and the edges that Nadal has been showing: from It’s been a long time, almost three years now, suffering weighs more than the pleasure of winning. Too many injuries, too many ailments and too much physical pain, sometimes recorded by the cameras —remember the harrowing episode in Rome last year, barely able to walk— and other times not. The underlying reality, beyond trophies and successes, has always been there, latent and poignant.

Nadal hurts his abdomen during the last edition of Wimbledon.
Nadal hurts his abdomen during the last edition of Wimbledon.Kirsty Wigglesworth (AP)

“In training you see many things that make you understand others, that we are not in favor of exposing them,” his coach, Carlos Moyà, conceded in November, hinting during a group with journalists who traveled to Turin that the tennis player’s mental reservoir was not far away to overflow. The previous claim of his bench at Wimbledon was not accidental either, another clue that the red line was getting closer and closer. “Go now, go now!” His father, his agent and his sister asked him when his abdomen was torn during the duel with the American Taylor Fritz, with the aim of minimizing damage.

“I have to attend to much more important things than tennis,” admitted Nadal a couple of months earlier, after being eliminated in New York, when he was trying to get back on track, but the precariousness of training and internal anxiety -derived from the complicated pregnancy of his wife, María—would not allow it. Personal stress and professional restlessness, united in a combo that during the 2020 pandemic already made him rethink his project and that worsened last year, when to jump on the track he had to take one injection after another; a life between painkillers, needles, punctures, resonances, radio frequencies… Too much for anyone, even for Nadal.

the last signs

While the fan is dazzled by the brilliance of his showcase and keeps all those bites, synonymous with glory, in gold cloth, the athlete suffers and the person erodes. The war report is more than explicit, accepted but cruel: since 2003, when he began to show his head among the elite and emit unusual signs, the Spaniard has missed 13 major tournaments as a result of physical mishaps and has been in the dry dock for about four years, adding up the duration of all the injuries. Despite this, he has been able to surpass Federer himself —retired in September, at the age of 41— and to keep up with the Serbian Novak Djokovic (36 years old next Monday) without ever throwing in the towel. He does not do it now, but good sense and tomorrow prevail. For a long time, he has spoken with his heart in his hand and has given signs. “I’m not fine, I’m not fine”, he repeated in his goodbye to his Swiss comrade, both protagonists of a tearful photo that went around the world.

Nadal's wife, between the tennis player's sister and his coach.
Nadal’s wife, between the tennis player’s sister and his coach.CATI CLADERA (EFE)

“You can’t always be demanding more and more from your body,” he reasoned on Thursday, “because one day he pulls out the white flag and tells you that up to here.” Paying attention to maturity and shackling that irrepressible spirit that always invited him to move forward, whatever the abyss he might fall into, he now marks a pause that, he says, does not claim to be completely definitive, but does establish a line of arrival: 2024. However, Nadal will be Nadal until the last ball, and he wants to fulfill that old wish of retiring by rallying and feeling competitive, being true to himself and to that ideology that his uncle Toni instilled in him since they began to mold one of the most heroic journeys in sports history.

Training and mental health

“I do not claim to be exemplary,” he said. “I just try to do the things that I consider to be right within my ethics. Of course, I understand that when one has mental problems or illnesses, they must work with professionals to solve them, but I believe that mental health must be trained; if at the least that something doesn’t work out we stop because we can get burned, we untrain it and get frustrated, and we end up being unhappy; Of course, there is a given moment in which it is fair to stop, but I think that before doing so, one should have given himself many opportunities, “he added while from Paris it was reported that he was absent from the main draw of the tournament that begins on the 28th. It will be the It is the first time that he has not attended Roland Garros since his foot prevented him from doing so in 2004, then due to a first crack in the scaphoid suffered while competing in Estoril.

Nadal and Federer console each other during the Laver Cup, in September.
Nadal and Federer console each other during the Laver Cup, in September.she ling

Meanwhile, a landscape as natural as strange is glimpsed. Nadal will not parade through Paris and it is unknown if he will be able to say goodbye to his sanctuary next year. “This breaks my heart,” the director of the major Parisian, Amélie Mauresmo, through a statement. “As everyone knows, I’m getting older…”, commented the 22-big champion in November, after being eliminated from the Masters Cup despite a late win against the Norwegian Casper Ruud. “They have been moments of great frustration, for me and those who are by my side; In the end, there are moments when victory is the only reward ”, she resolved in his town.

But, definitely, the will collides with reality. Nadal’s present no longer depends on achievements —eight big ones over thirty—, on summits or on ranking that he can occupy, now a very minor matter no matter how much the decision pushes him to the qualifying precipice. It responds simply to life: to a question of deserved happiness.

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