The Never-ending Song

Rafael Nadal reaches a happy ending for the 14th time at Roland Garros. Let us take a glance at this difficult and storied victory with its main lines.

Pete Sampras had won 14 Grand Slam titles when he retired in 2002. The American star, who developed 12 of Roy Emerson’s, was considered to be at the top for many years. But in the intervening 20 years, we have watched more or less all the records of men’s tennis shatter. Still, it doesn’t sound like the fact that Rafael Nadal has 14 titles at Roland Garros, equating Sampras with all they’ve won in one tournament. Rafa, who beat Casper Ruud in three sets in the last game of the 2022 French Open, which was completed yesterday, once again improved the most incredible record in tennis history. The Spanish legend, who opened the season with a surprise championship at the Australian Open, returns from Paris, where he came under the shadow of injury suspicions, with the “Musketeers Cup”. So how did Nadal do it?

Rafael Nadal suffered a rib injury in the Indian Wells final after storming into 2022 on the hard court. It wasn’t much of a problem, but it was possible that he missed part of the clay court season. He wasn’t 100 percent yet when he came back at the Madrid Masters. A more serious problem surfaced while he was playing his second match at the Roma Masters, where he had previously won 10 times. So much so that Nadal’s foot injury, which had recurred intermittently since 2005, showed itself again. The statement “I am not injured; I am a player living with an injury.” was the manifestation of his disappointment. Actually, he was aware that could throw a bed blanket on his French Open claim, which seems to be taken for granted. Melbourne had lifted their 21st slam trophy and with that sharpness they had a golden chance to reach 22. At the start of the tournament, no one knew—including himself—if he could use it.

Rafael Nadal, who has been battling the so-called Müller-Weiss Syndrome for a long time, made a plan to push through all the conditions when he came to Paris to play Roland Garros. The experienced racket, who invited his doctor Angel Ruiz Cotorro to the tournament, was able to not feel pain thanks to the injection applied to his feet during the matches he played. When asked at the post-semifinal press conference, “If you were given a new leg in exchange for losing the final, would you accept it?” The clear “Yes” answer he gave to the question explained many things. He had a condition that bothered him not only on the court but also in his daily life, which could even affect his mobility in his retirement. In this way, playing tennis at a high level was a giant reflection of his warrior character.

The king of the clay court started his performances in Paris as in the memories. Jordan Thompson, Corentin Moutet and Botic Van de Zandschulp had not set in their games, but it was clear that it had not been tested enough yet. In the fourth round, Felix Auger, coached by his uncle and former coach Toni Nadal, had his first big challenge against Aliassime. The Canadian junior racquet forced Nadal into only his third five-set match in 17 years of the French Open. He would stay on the court for about four hours before the quarter-final match with world number 1 Novak Djokovic. Despite this, Rafa, who entered the match very aggressively in front of Djokovic, was walking to the semi-finals with a score of 3-1 and was getting a rematch of last year’s defeat from his arch-rival. He won one of the miraculous sets of his career by turning four sets in a row against Sascha Zverev, who was waiting for him in the last four. While the big competition was going on, Sascha, who fell at the end of the second set and sprained his foot, could not continue, and he was walking to the final for the 14th time. Rafa had managed to bend expectations and create his own reality, just as he had in Melbourne at the beginning of the year.

Just like Iga Swiatek, the women’s singles champion of the tournament, Casper Ruud, who made her Grand Slam final for the first time, was one of the children who grew up idolizing Nadal. Following Rafa’s victory in 2013 from the stands, the Norwegian tennis player was the first to shake his hand and congratulate him when he won the 2022 championship. Despite the heavy defeat of 6-3, 6-3, 6-0, he was smiling because now he too is a part of tennis history. While rumors that he would announce his retirement after the match spread from Paris to the world, we heard a phrase that can be considered hopeful from Rafael Nadal, who embraced his favorite trophy for the 14th time: “I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I will continue to fight to go to forward.” Yes, Rafa will try to come back after all. To continue never-ending song…

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