Rafael Nadal looked none the worse for wear in the aftermath of his remarkable run in the French Open. He understood the significance of his record-extending 22nd major title, of course; in claiming his unprecedented 14th La Coupe des Mousquetaires, he cemented his status as the greatest clay court player of all time. To argue that he has lived and breathed Roland Garros would be to understate the obvious. Never mind that he headed into the fortnight seeded fifth, or that he continued to suffer from the degenerative Mueller-Weiss syndrome. Forget that he stood to be an old 36, what with a style of play that taxed his body as much as it punished his opponents. When the battlesmoke cleared, he was in his familiar place at the top of the sport.
Considering the relative ease with which Nadal took the championship, it’s significant to note his sobering assessment of his plight. He didn’t want to talk about his ailing left foot throughout the tournament in part because he wanted to focus on the task at hand, and in larger measure out of respect for the competition. Once the trophy was in hand, however, he explained his condition with marked candor. Under the circumstances, he noted, “I can’t and I don’t want to keep going. I’m going to keep working to try to find a solution and an improvement for what’s happening.”
How long Nadal will be able to keep going is subject to speculation. This time last year, he didn’t even make the French Open final; World Number One Novak Djokovic made short work of him in the Round of Four, seemingly an indication that the end was near. As things turned out, he had more — make that much more — in the tank; including the Australian Open crown that came after a long hiatus, he has moved two Grand Slam wins clear of the other members of the Big Three. It’s a decided advantage given their advancing age and increasingly fewer chances of winning.
True, Nadal has been the beneficiary of unforeseen turns of events. Djokovic’s deportation led to smooth sailing at Melbourne Park. He then had a semifinal-round walkover in Paris, avoiding what seemed a surefire five setter; third seed Alexander Zverev had to be carted off in a wheelchair after an unfortunate ankle twist. That said, there can be no discounting the weight of his achievement. And, needless to say, he plans to “keep fighting to try to keep going.”
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.