Merry Christmas away from Djokovic and Federer in the race to be the best

In preparation for Rafael Nadal’s French Open quarter-final clash with Novak Djokovic last Tuesday, some doubts surrounded Nadal ahead of his biggest challenge. He was not in a particularly good shape, barely surviving Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round. He was playing catch-up after his recent stress fracture in his ribs and competing after his chronic foot disease broke out. The match was scheduled for the night where its strong twist could be sterilized in cold, slow conditions.

The result of that match and everything that followed, with Nadal rising to win his 14th French Open title and 22nd Grand Slam, further underscores what he has shown for a long time. No matter his age, his own preparations, or the revelation that he played a two-week tournament with part of his foot under anesthesia, Christmas dominance at Roland Garros transcends everything.

At the end of last season, when Djokovic held on to a game of winning his fourth grand slam of the year at the U.S. Open, he had positioned himself optimally to break the tie at three of 20 older and consolidate as the masculine of all time. leader. Instead, Nadal has now created a clear buffer between himself and his rivals, and is halfway through a one-season Grand Slam.

This would be an important point of conversation if it weren’t for how Christmas has continually downplayed it. When he was behind Roger Federer, he used the same analogy dozens of times. “You can’t be frustrated all the time because your neighbor has a bigger house than you,” he said three years ago.

To his credit, Nadal has been steady, even now that his own big slam is bigger than that of those neighbors. He now says that these debates are not so important, as he, Djokovic and Federer achieved things beyond their wildest dreams and reached a “very even” level. His daily motivation comes from elsewhere.

Rafael Nadal plays through the pain barrier in his epic quarter-final victory over Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Photo: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

“It’s about how much you enjoy doing what you’re doing or if you don’t enjoy it, then that’s another story, right?” He said. “But if you like what you’re doing, go ahead. Because, for example, if you like to play golf, you keep playing golf. If I like playing tennis and if I can keep playing, I keep playing because I like what I do. So that’s it. “

In Spanish, Nadal extended this feeling: “I have said it a million times but I never tire of saying it. The best satisfaction is always the staff, more than a medal or anything. Know that you are striving to achieve your goals. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. But you have the inner peace to return home with the certainty that you have tried everything. “

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Despite the joy with which Nadal plays, enjoying such an unexpected “golden” moment so deep in his career, at the same time he is full of uncertainty. This contrast was especially striking at his press conference, where he sat with the La Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy by his side after one of the great triumphs of his career, but for 40 minutes in two languages ​​he explained above all, with a detail as extensive as it has become. he never spoke of an injury, why he is so uncertain about his future because of the Müller-Weiss syndrome he suffers from in his foot.

Even Nadal has a pain limit that he is willing to overcome in the pursuit of success and is therefore not ready to re-block the nerves in his foot to numb the pain. He is now looking for a solution, starting with radiofrequency ablation which he will try in the coming weeks and then with major surgery which he says should be considered if it fails. In an interview with Onda Cero Radioestadio in Spanish, he made it clear: “It may still be my last Roland Garros, but I will do my best to move forward.”

Nadal promises to “keep fighting” after winning the 14th title of the French Open – video

The basis of Christmas’s success for so long has been its attitude; his acceptance of every circumstance, the optimism and composure with which he faces adversity and the perspective he has kept under pressure. At 36, he takes on a different role. It will guide you both when you try to extend your career as long as possible, but also when you recognize that you have reached your limits.

“My clear position is that life always prevails,” he said. “Of course, my tennis career has been a priority all my life, but it has never been a priority above my happiness.”

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