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Friday, December 2, 2022

Rafael Nadal’s Clash with the Clock

There was a point during the match on Sunday night when Rafael Nadal unexpectedly reverted back to being Rafael Nadal.

Even though he had only played one singles match since his defeat at the U.S. Open in September, this occurred during the first set of Nadal’s first match at the ATP Finals, where he entered as the top seed. This happened during Nadal’s first match at the ATP Finals. It took around four seconds for the whole sequence to play out, which consisted of a pursuit from deep in the backcourt to collect a drop shot from the American Taylor Fritz near the net just before the second bounce, followed by a fantastic, backhanded snap overhead hit on the sharpest of angles.

The audience erupted in cheers when Rafael Nadal performed his trademark “hop-skip” and “roundhouse fist-pump.” The people in Nadal’s overflowing player box, which included his parents, coach, Carlos Moya, sister, wife, agent, and a few others, leaped from their seats while yelling “Vamos.” They were still thrilled by their boy wonder after all of these years. Nadal’s parents are from Spain, and Carlos Moya is from Spain as well.

However, the moment only lasted for a split second. Within the hour, Fritz was absolutely dominating Nadal, riding the momentum of winning the first-set tiebreaker and using his practically impenetrable first serve to knock him out with a score of 7-6 (3) and 6-1. For the third consecutive match, Nadal, a 22-time Grand Slam singles champion, had lost to a member of the so-called next generation of Americans. This was a bizarre streak for him and another disquieting detail at the end of a year that included a comeback from the dead and the birth of his first child, but also included yet another series of unsettling injuries.

When Nadal once again showed flashes of the old flair, with blistering forehands and whirling backhands, there was more frustration in the afternoon on Tuesday. But far too often in the decisive moments against Felix Auger-Aliassime, the young Canadian, he either found himself playing defence or making careless blunders that exposed his idleness; he has played only eight singles matches since July. Auger-Aliassime cruised to his first victory over Nadal, defeating him in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, and putting an end to Nadal’s chances of advancing beyond the round-robin round. The match was played for the third time on tour.

Fritz was smart enough not to conceive of himself as the favourite versus Nadal since Nadal had defeated him in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July despite having an abdominal tear that was so bad that his family pleaded with him to leave the court. After all was finished, Fritz expressed how much the defeat had hurt, saying that it made him want to weep. The next day, Nadal announced his withdrawal from the competition.

After being sidelined for the better part of the second half of 2021, he travelled to Australia in January, only seven weeks after being taken off crutches. He did so with the expectation that it would be his final time competing in that region due to his deteriorating physique and persistent injury to his left foot. He was getting stronger with each match, and even though he was behind Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the final by two sets, he was able to come back and win the first Grand Slam title of the year.

Even though he had a fractured rib, he competed in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Before each match of the French Open, he gave himself an injection to dull the pain in his foot. He was forced to leave Paris with crutches once again, but he did so having won his 14th French Open singles title.

It’s possible that Rafael Nadal would have retired at a different point in his career. Instead, he chose to play with Roger Federer in the Swiss champion’s last competitive match, after which he worked on getting well in preparation for this competition, which was a meeting of the season’s top eight players in terms of success.

When he finally got around to getting ready to participate, it was almost too late for the season. He was unable to make his comeback at a more manageable event and was forced to compete in the Paris Masters instead. Nadal was defeated in the first match of Tommy Paul’s tournament by Paul, who had spent his childhood practising with Fritz and Tiafoe.

It is probable that Nadal will have to wait for that. After this competition, he will not play again until the tennis season in 2023, which will start on the first weekend of the New Year in Australia. He has committed to playing for Spain in the United Cup, which is a round-robin, mixed team competition. This event will provide him with the opportunity to compete against a number of the world’s best players before he competes in the 2022 Australian Open singles tournament.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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