After the umpteenth resurrection of Rafael Nadal, from crutches in September to becoming the tennis player with the most Grand Slams in the history of the men’s circuit, it is difficult to bet on how many more he will achieve. There is no expiration date that is valid because neither the years nor the injuries have been able to knock down his determination to return again and again, on his ashes, and in a big way. Beyond the image left in the final of the Australian Open, a practical, real example of his commitment to tennis, are the words of the protagonist, who knows better than anyone how much gasoline remains in the body and how much his head can generate. “Now I am more confident that I will be able to continue playing tennis a little longer”. As a warning.
Despite having conquered another galaxy in which, for now, only he orbits, there are still challenges that can fuel his ambition. To continue with the big tournaments, in spring comes the point of the calendar that always marks in red: a Roland Garros that crossed him in 2021, defeat in the semifinals against Novak Djokovic. Regain territory and immortalize a fourteenth bite on the Philippe Chatrier. But the adventure can continue, because he knows that both Djokovic and Federer, although the Swiss still has no return date, are still active and hungry because now he is the challenge.
In 2010 it touched another of those milestones that have few names. He won in Paris, Wimbledon and the US Open. He missed the Australian Open to complete the grand slam, the four major titles in the same year. Something that they achieved, almost in the Open Era, Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) and Steffi Graf. The German also put her stamp on what is defined as the Golden Grand Slam, since in 1988 she included the Olympic gold in Seoul for wins on the circuit.
At another level are the Masters 1,000, where Nadal is second in the standings, with 36, one behind Djokovic. Most have conquered them in the first half of the season (Montecarlo, 11; Rome, 10; Mutua Madrid Open, 5), although the success of their time in Canada, already in August, with 5 titles, is not insignificant. But there are notable absences in his showcase, as he has never bitten in Miami, Shanghai or Paris-Bercy. His body is so exhausted at the end of the course that he has never been able to succeed in the Masters Cup, he was a finalist in 2013 and 2010.
Djokovic marks, like number 1, another limit in a challenge that almost always seems difficult for the Balearic, as injuries have prevented him from maintaining the necessary regularity in recent years to attack the ATP throne again, where he finished the years 2008, 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019. However, he has options to climb, at least towards the podium, in this 2022, since he defends very few points beyond the semifinals of Roland Garros. The Serbian, in himself, constitutes another pending task, his duels always as fierce as in number of them, the longest rivalry in current tennis, with 58 chapters between them. Few active rivals maintain a positive face-to-face about the Balearic; Djokovic is one of them, the most difficult (28-30).
More than ever, the Balearic looks at the day to day, with medium-term goals, at best, because the body sets the pace. But it is the head that generates the energy to get up every morning to train and be that best point every day so that the challenges are possible. Hence, no one wants or can put expiration on the Balearic Islands.
How much does he have left? It will depend on how it is. Now that is an unknown. Nobody knows. Last year we thought he was doing very well, he was launched, in the semifinals of Roland Garros, he lost against Djokovic and, suddenly, he did not compete again. If he’s fine, without physical problems, two more seasons at the highest level, I’m sure he can be. Two or three seasons. But who knows if an old or new injury is going to come out, ”Álex Corretja explained to this newspaper. It is what Jordi Arrese also gives him: «Nadal will be top and one of the favorites while he can play three years on clay. In hard it will depend on your pain ». The Barcelona 92 Olympic silver champion underlines the key for the Balearic to remain active and at the top: “He has had to modify his physique as well, with all the injuries he has had. He has taken care of himself and has played fewer tournaments. With 35 years, and this vitality … he wants to surpass them all ».
It is supported by an unbeatable planning of all parameters: biomechanical studies, injury prevention, nutrition -although he confessed that during these months of hiatus he had to force himself to give up chocolate-, recovery technology or rest methods to lengthen the race. He also has a perfect balance of disconnection and family environment that keep him motivated, disciplined, and competitive. And to continue being Nadal, 17 years from the first Grand Slam to the last, he has had to evolve. Be other Nadal. It is required by the circuit itself, the rivals, the drift towards the power above the strategy.
His coaches, both Moyà and Roig, always explain that they had to convince him to alter his routines, force him to be more aggressive, to change from winning by attrition to winning by attack. Shorten the points to protect the body. He hasn’t sported so much muscle for a long time, but he has gained resistance, speed, lethality in blows, like the rest, which returns higher, longer, more uncomfortable; or the reverse, much more definitive. The ability to adapt joins his mental mastery, with which he reaches the next blow when the physical one can no longer. With which he gets up to be better every day. And to meet those challenges that only he makes possible.