Rafael Nadal's painful left foot was numbed by multiple injections to two nerves throughout the French Open, the only way he has found to deal with a chronic condition he acknowledges puts his tennis future in doubt. At any other tournament, Nadal said, he would not have persisted through what he called such “extreme conditions.” Also read:Nadal improves to 18-0 with win over Opelka at Indian Wells Ah, but five simple words uttered after he strung together the last 11 games of a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory over an overwhelmed Casper Ruud in Sunday's intriguing-for-a-handful-of-minutes final at Court Philippe Chatrier explained Nadal's mindset: “Roland Garros is Roland Garros.” And so even if Nadal, a French Open champion for the 14th time now at age 36, is in obvious ways different from Nadal, a French Open champion for the first time all the way back in 2005 at age 19, that desire to give his all, no matter what, to “find solutions" — one of his oft-used phrases — remains the same. He is the oldest champion in the history of a tournament that began in 1925, and his hair is thinning on top. The chartreuse T-shirt he wore Sunday had sleeves, unlike his biceps-baring look of nearly two decades ago. The white capri pants that ran below his knees back in the day were long since traded in for more standard shorts; Sunday’s were turquoise. Here’s what hasn’t changed along the way to his 22 Grand Slam titles in all, another record, in addition to his between-point mannerisms and meticulous attention paid to the must-be-just-so placement of water bottles and towels: That lefty uppercut of a topspin-slathered, high-bouncing forehand still finds the mark much more frequently than it misses, confounding foes. That ability to read serves and return them with a purpose still stings. That never-concede-a-thing attitude propelling Nadal from side to side, forward and backward, speeding to, and redirecting, balls off an opponent’s racket seemingly destined to be unreachable. Nadal is nothing if not indefatigable, just as he was in consecutive four-hour-plus victories earlier in the tournament — including against Novak Djokovic, the defending champion and No. 1 seed — and again on this afternoon, even while competing on a foot devoid of any feeling. “When you are playing defensive against Rafa on clay,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old Norwegian who was participating in his first major final, "he will eat you alive." Nadal said afterward he will try other methods of helping his foot — including, even, a way “to burn, a little bit, the nerve” — over the next week to see whether that might allow him to enter Wimbledon, where he has won two of his men’s-record 22 Grand Slam titles. Play begins at the All England Club on June 27. If these new treatments do not work, Nadal said, then he will need to consider having what he termed major surgery — and, eventually, a “decision about what’s the next step in my future.” “It’s obvious that with the circumstances that I am playing (in),” Nadal said, “I can’t and I don’t want to keep going.” During the trophy ceremony, Nadal thanked his family and support team, including a doctor who accompanied him to Paris, for helping him, because otherwise he would have needed to “retire much before.” “I don’t know what can happen in the future,” Nadal told the crowd, “but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going.” He played so crisply and cleanly Sunday, accumulating more than twice as many winners as Ruud, 37 to 16. Nadal also committed fewer unforced errors, making just 16 to Ruud’s 26. After trailing 3-1 in the second set, Nadal would not cede another game. Also read: Spanish Tennis Maestro Rafael Nadal Wins Record 21 Grand Slam Titles “After that moment,” Nadal said, “everything went very smooth.” Sure did. The view from the other side of the net? “I’m just another one of the victims," Ruud said, “that he has destroyed on this court.” One of the most indelible memories Ruud will take away from this day was hearing the announcer recite the long list of years Nadal had previously won the French Open: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. “Never stops, it seems like,” Ruud said. “That takes like half a minute.” When the players met at the net for the prematch coin toss, the first chants of “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” rang out in the 15,000-seat stadium. Ruud would later hear folks in the stands do drawn-out pronouncements of his last name, so it sounded as if they might be booing. Nadal is 14-0 in finals at Roland Garros, 112-3 overall. When this one ended with a down-the-line backhand from Nadal, he chucked his racket to the red clay he loves so much and covered his face with the taped-up fingers on both of his hands. No man or woman ever has won the singles trophy at any major event more than his 14 in Paris. And no man has won more Grand Slam titles than Nadal. He is two ahead of Roger Federer, who hasn’t played in almost a year after a series of knee operations, and Djokovic, who missed the Australian Open in January because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. For all that he has accomplished already, Nadal now has done something he never managed previously: He is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam thanks to titles at the Australian Open and French Open in the same season. But if he can't play at Wimbledon, which he has won twice, that doesn't really matter much. Ruud considers Nadal his idol. He recalls watching all of Nadal’s past finals in Paris on TV. He has trained at Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca. They have played countless practice sets together there with nothing more at stake than bragging rights. Nadal usually won those, and Ruud joked the other day that’s because he was trying to be a polite guest. The two had never met in a real match until Sunday, when a championship, money, ranking points, prestige and a piece of history were on the line. And Nadal demonstrated, as he has so often, why he’s known as the King of Clay — and among the game’s greatest ever. “It’s something that I, for sure, never believed — to be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most favorite court of my career, one more time in the final," Nadal said. "It means a lot to me. Means everything.”
Nursing a nagging foot injury, Rafael Nadal improved to 18-0 this season, edging Reilly Opelka 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) on Wednesday in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open. “I can’t say it’s a dream because I even couldn’t dream about that three months ago, two months ago,” Nadal said. “I am just enjoying every single moment.” Last year, Nadal's playing time was interrupted by COVID-19 and injuries, creating doubt about the Spanish star's ability to recover well enough to maintain his exacting standards. But he won his record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January and has continued on a tear. “I am just very happy to be playing tennis,” said Nadal, who turns 36 in June. “Today was a little bit worse than other days. It’s true that the last couple of days the foot has been bothering me a little bit more.” Read: Spanish Tennis Maestro Rafael Nadal Wins Record 21 Grand Slam Titles Nadal has already withdrawn from the Miami Open that follows Indian Wells. He wants extra time to prepare for the clay court season that isn't as punishing as hard courts. Nadal rallied from a 2-4 deficit in the second set to lead 6-5. Opelka held after three deuces when Nadal netted a forehand chasing the American's drop shot to force the second tiebreaker. Nadal led 4-1 in the tiebreaker when Opelka struggled on his service returns. On his serve, though, the 6-foot-11 American closed to 4-3, hitting winners on a drop shot and a forehand. Again on his serve, Opelka closed to 6-5. But Nadal closed it out by pulling Opelka out of the court and the American's backhand landed wide. “It’s about trying to hit balls that you don’t take a lot of risks, but at the same time don’t allow him to go in and go for the shot,” Nadal said. “Is trying to find the right balance between these two things.” There were no service breaks in the first set. Opelka fought off the only break point in the seventh game with a smash and forehand winner. Nadal held at love for 6-all, forcing the tiebreaker. Opelka led 3-2 with a forehand winner down the line. Nadal won the next five points, all on errors by Opelka, to take the set. Nadal improved to 19-0 against American opponents since losing to John Isner at the 2017 Laver Cup. Nadal, a three-time champion in the desert, advanced to the quarterfinals against wild-card Nick Kyrgios. The Australian advanced to his first ATP Tour quarterfinal since winning Washington in 2019 after 10th-seeded Jannik Sinner withdrew because of illness. Taylor Fritz fired 14 aces in outlasting Alex de Minaur, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5). “I have more confidence in my shot, so when it comes crunch time, I feel like I can kind of trust what I want to do, trust my game," said Fritz, who reached the semifinals at Indian Wells last year. Read: Nadal wins Australian Open for record 21st major title Fritz next plays Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia in the quarterfinals. Kecmanovic overcame 14 aces by No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini in a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory. Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria beat Isner, 6-3, 7-6 (6) and next plays No. 7 Audrey Rublev, who defeated Hubert Hurkacz, 7-6 (5), 6-4. Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz beat Gael Monfils, 7-5 6-1. He'll play a quarterfinal against defending champion Cameron Norrie, who defeated Jenson Brooksby, 6-2, 6-4. In women's play, No. 3 Iga Swiatek routed Madison Keys 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour to reach the semifinals. Simona Halep advanced with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Petra Martic. Halep won at Indian Wells in 2015 for her biggest hardcourt title to date.
Rafael Nadal got to 21 first, breaking the men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles and doing it the hard way by coming back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in an almost 5 1/2-hour Australian Open final. Nadal was broken when serving for the championship for the first time at 5-4 in the fifth set, but he made no mistake two games later by served an ace to earn three championship points and converted it on the first attempt. The 35-year-old Spaniard now has one more major title than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, his long-time rivals in the so-called Big Three. Read:Barty wins drought-breaking Australian Open women’s title With the 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win that started Sunday night, was delayed in the 84-minute second set when a protester jumped onto the court, and then finished early Monday morning, Nadal also became just the fourth man in history to win all four of the sport’s major titles at least twice. “Good evening. No, good morning!” Nadal, looking at his watch, told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena when he finally got up for his acceptance speech at 1:30 a.m. In the background, Rod Laver, the ageing Australian tennis great, was in the stands holding up his smartphone to capture the scenes. A woman nearby held up a sign that stated: “Rafa is the GOAT.” For now, in terms of men’s major titles at least, Nadal is the Greatest Of All Time. Nadal said it had been “one of the most emotional matches in my tennis career,” and he praised Medvedev for the part he played in the 5-hour, 24-minute final. It was the second longest Australian Open final ever, after Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2012 decider that lasted 5:53. His victory was even more remarkable considering Nadal flew to Australia with just two matches under his belt in the second half of 2021 because he was sidelined with a chronic foot injury that can be treated but not cured. He also overcame a bout of COVID-19. “For me, it’s just amazing. Being honest, one month and a half ago, I didn’t know if I’d be able to play on the tour again,” Nadal said. “Without a doubt, (it’s) probably been one of the most emotional months in my tennis career. “The huge support I’ve received for the last three weeks will stay in my heart for the rest of my life.” Nadal won his first Australian Open title in 2009 and lost four other finals at Melbourne Park before his dramatic win over U.S. Open champion Medvedev. His conversion rate in major finals is now 21 out of 29. Federer and Djokovic each have 20 majors from 31 finals appearances. Read:Djokovic heads for Belgrade after deportation from Australia Medvedev, who was aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the very next major, was ever-so-close to spoiling another 21st celebration. Djokovic was chasing the same record at the U.S. Open last year, and a calendar-year Grand Slam, when Medvedev beat him in straight sets in the final. Federer also had his chance at 21, but Djokovic stopped that when he saved match points before winning the 2019 Wimbledon final. Medvedev now joins Andy Murray among those who’ve lost the final at the next major tournament after their career breakthrough at the highest level. It was just the fourth time Nadal has rallied from two sets down to win a best-of-five-set match, and the first since a fourth-round victory in 2007 at Wimbledon over Mikhail Youzhny. He’s is the first Australian Open champion to come back to win after dropping the first two sets of the final since Roy Emerson in 1965.
Rafael Nadal beat a tired Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 for a record-extending 10th Italian Open title on Sunday. The Spaniard recovered from a potentially dangerous fall after tripping over a raised line to take the latest installment of the most-played rivalry in modern men’s tennis. It also re-established Nadal as the overwhelming favorite for the French Open, where he will be aiming for an even harder-to-believe 14th title starting in two weeks. Nadal beat Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s Roland Garros final. The top-ranked Djokovic spent nearly five hours on court Saturday, when he had to rally for a rain-delayed quarterfinal victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas before winning another three-setter over local favorite Lorenzo Sonego in the semifinals. Nadal played only once on Saturday, beating Reilly Opelka in 1 ½ hours. In the women’s final, reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek routed Karolina Pliskova with a “double bagel” 6-0 6-0. It was the 57th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic, which is the most matches between two men in the Open era. It was also their ninth meeting in Rome, where they have played more than anywhere else. Djokovic now holds the slimmest of edges in the all-time series, 29-28, while Nadal holds a 6-3 advantage in Rome overall and 4-2 in Rome finals. The 10,500-seat Campo Centrale stadium was only a quarter full due to the coronavirus pandemic. But those lucky few in attendance on an overcast day at the Foro Italico made themselves heard, shouting Djokovic’s nickname, “Nole, Nole,” on the big points, or “C’mon Rafa.” For the second time this week, Nadal tripped over a line that appeared slightly raised on the center court of the Foro Italico. The incident, which resulted in a bloody scrape near the Spaniard’s left knee, made Nadal livid. At 3-3 in the first set, Nadal chased down a short ball from Djokovic and whipped a cross-court passing shot for a winner. Then his momentum made him slide into the doubles alley and his left foot tripped over the outside line, causing him to roll over onto the clay. Nadal got up immediately and jabbed his arm into the air angrily and had a word with the chair umpire, who called on court workers to hammer the line further into the clay court. Nadal had a similar fall in his quarterfinal victory over Alexander Zverev.
Rafael Nadal didn’t make it for Spain’s ATP Cup opener because of a sore back, deciding it wasn’t worth the risk a week ahead of the Australian Open.
Instead of No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal for the ATP Finals trophy, it’ll be No. 3 Dominic Thiem against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev.
Rafael Nadal says it will be "very difficult" for tennis to return to action any time soon and is concerned about the risk of injuries when the sport resumes.