The heroism, or the “semi-miracle”, as he defines it, continues to spread in Melbourne and leads to the grand final tomorrow (9.30, Eurosport), where an octopus with endless arms and legs awaits Rafael Nadal as the last hurdle before the which would mean his 21st Grand Slam title; that is, the possibility of breaking the tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, and being at the top of the top for the first time. The Spaniard placated Matteo Berrettini’s final rebellion in time (6-3, 6-2, 3-6 and 6-3, after 2h 55m) and returned two years later to the final on a big stage. The last one had been in his reign at Roland Garros, but the triumph that led him to the final clash with Daniil Medvedev (7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4 and 6-1 against Stefanos Tsitsipas, in 2h 30m ) was accompanied by another revealing notch.
A consummate specialist on clay, Nadal also dominates the record on the fast court like few others. With yesterday’s, the Majorcan has 500 wins on this last surface and the figure, round where they exist, places him only behind Federer (783), Novak Djokovic (683) and Andre Agassi (592). Add and follow the Balearic, a praise to the veteran. At 35 years and 241 days, he became the fourth-oldest finalist in Australia after local Ken Rosewall (37 and 62 in 1972), his compatriot Mal Anderson (37 and 306 that same year) and Federer (36 and 173 in 2018). Collect 29 presences in the definitive episode of a major, two less than the Swiss (40 years old) and Djokovic (34), and continues to sweeten a race for which the qualifiers are exhausted.
“He is the best athlete I have ever seen in my life”, John McEnroe stressed in cube, space of the Eurosport channel in which he offers his analysis these days. “He is a reference, an inspiration for me,” added Berrettini, annulled and timid until he was left with no way out and responded with an outburst, rather timid and clearly insufficient. “I feel alive again, I’m having fun again. This is something completely unexpected. The last six months have been very hard and for a month and a half I didn’t know if I would play tennis again. I give thanks to life, ”says Nadal, who has nine major finals since the thirty-odd barrier, one less than Djokovic.
The fuse of the Spaniard’s career is not only full of epic, but also endless. Because of his style, it was said when he flashed on the courts and turned each match into an athletic challenge, Nadal was not going to be able to develop a priori a long professional path. Too much momentum in his game, too much aggressiveness in maneuvers and too much suffering for those knees that have a good memory, and that do not forget the millions of impacts, neither braking nor dry acceleration that their owner has demanded of them. However, the tennis player rebels against logic and anatomy, and continues, continues and continues competing and, also, winning. From 2004 to today, Nadal guarantees at least one trophy per year, without exception; 19 consecutive seasons tasting the taste of metal with their bites.
Another fact reinforces the longevity. With his sixth access to the final of the great Australian –champion in 2009, and defeats in 2012 (Djokovic), 2014 (Stan Wawrinka), 2017 (Federer) and 2019 (Nole again)–, the man from Manacor became the player which offers a wider margin between his first and last Grand Slam final. They are 17 years from 2005 to this 2022. Federer defended the honor (16 years from 2003 to 2019) and is followed by Agassi (15 from 1990 to 2005), Djokovic (14 from 2007 to 2021) and the American Pete Sampras (12 from 1990 to 2002).
Nadal undertook the march with which he played and won against the Argentine Mariano Puerta in Paris, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1 and 7-5. Back then he wore shoulder-length hair, played sleeveless and moved like a tornado. Today, the format is the same but different: same cut, width of register. He is a top tennis player. Despite all the ups and downs, setbacks and blows he has had to overcome, the current number five enjoys a present unimaginable until recently. A chimera, really.
“I will always give my best and of course I always fight to win, but for me this is a gift. Being where I am and competing at the level I am competing at supposes a great energy to continue”, he valued during the talk with the journalists. “For me it is much more important to have had the opportunity to play tennis again than to win the 21st, another Grand Slam. In the end, life is about happiness. I can’t explain it in words”, he concluded happily, before getting in the car to return to the hotel. Heading to 36 years old, Nadal continues to rediscover himself.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.