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Two Photographs

2 February 2022
Two Photographs

Would you like to better understand what kind of athlete Rafael Nadal is? Two photos can guide you…

On September 1, 2021, a photo of Rafael Nadal on crutches was published on his social media accounts. The Spanish legend, who was injured in many limbs such as feet, knees, back and wrists throughout his career, unfortunately had to give up again. The situation of Rafa, who did not play tennis much after Roland Garros due to the problem in his left foot, and passed Wimbledon and the US Open, was in suspense. Now that he was 35, it was unknown if he could make one of his powerful comebacks, which he had repeatedly made in the past. Rafa, who infected with Covid-19 after the show tournament he attended in Abu Dhabi in December and whose participation in the Australian Open remained uncertain, landed in Melbourne in the first days of the new year. Regardless of the outcome, it was good enough to see him back on the court. He started his adventure with little chance with amid whispers of “Win a few matches, find some rhythm, but it’s hard for him beyond”. He even won a small-scale training tournament before the Australian Open. He was aggressive, trying to keep the matches short, trying to hide his energy. He was able to pass his first two games against two opponents far from his own weight without giving a set.

Two Photographs

In the third round, she made her first serious test against former top 10 player Karen Khachanov and won by a score of 3-1. In front of Adrian Mannarino, who was a surprise name in the last 16, he left the match with 3-0 in the first set. The Sascha- Zverev match, which was expected to be played in the quarterfinals, did not take place, in which everyone who spoke about Nadal’s luck in the tournament commented. Because Zverev, who was the biggest favorite of the tournament together with Daniil Medvedev, was eliminated by Denis Shapovalov. It was inevitable that Rafa would gain the upper hand over the inexperienced Shapovalov, with the big obstacle in front of him being lifted and the momentum increasing as the matches progressed. Even though he had heat stroke and stomach problems in the match where he took a 2-0 lead and his Canadian opponent carried the job to the fifth set, the winner would still not change. According to his coach, Carlos Moya, Nadal had lost four kilograms while completing that match. Still, the result was marvelous. While it was doubtful whether he would play tennis again recently, he found himself in the last four at the first Grand Slam of the year.

The semi-final match he played with last year’s Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini was not going to put much pressure on Nadal. With his famous left-handed topspin forehand, Berrettini’s weakness on the backhand worked to the fullest and the hurdle was cleared 3-1. This journey, which was an incredible story regardless of the outcome, brought Rafa to his sixth Australian Open final. He became the champion in 2009; He would try once more where he was content with second place in 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019. Across the net, just like in New York two and a half years ago, was Daniil Medvedev. Moreover, the Russian star had now evolved into one of the best players in the world and was touted as the favorite against Rafa, who lost in five sets at the 2019 US Open. Medvedev, who recently broke the heart of Novak Djokovic and won his first slam title, entered the final strong in front of the other member of the “Big Three”. The score was already 2-0 in the sets before long time passed…

Rafael Nadal could not do what he wanted in the 29th Grand Slam final of his career. He served well throughout the tournament, but this time he had a terrific return player, so his serving efficiency was reduced. He was playing aggressive and finishing from the start, but Medvedev’s ability to return nearly any ball neutralized his attack. This match was starting to look like it was going to take shorter than expected. In the third set, while Medvedev was leading 3-2, he brought the score to 0-40 and found three break points. Looking at the course of the match, these points were almost equal to match points. Somehow; Rafa impassively and calmly took these three points first, then won the game and then the third set. Medvedev, who was slightly irritated by the spectator’s attitude that sometimes reached outrageous, started to lose his initiative in the game even though he was ahead in the score.

Now the cards were being dealt again. Looking tired and ineffective at the beginning of the match, Nadal’s game changed like night and day. His serve had reached the level he wanted, and his strokes were starting to work. Two sets of 6-4 made the score 2-2 in the fight. As the match time approached five hours, we were standing on the brink of history. You ask why? Rafa’s acquisition of this set would bring him his 21st slam trophy and would mean that he beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic  whom he had been in a huge rivalry for years. He would also become the second male player to win every slam tournament multiple times in the Open Era since 1968, joining Djokovic, who did so at Roland Garros last year. Above all, he would come back from the dark days when it was doubtful that he would ever play high-level tennis again.

Two Photographs

With the stakes that big, Rafael Nadal stepped up his game, as most great athletes would. Medvedev wasn’t bad, but it was obvious that the pressure was in his grip. The blood pressure he felt from frustration could be read from the spikes.  He resisted when the score was 5-4 but wouldn’t get another game after 5-5. Incredibly, exactly five hours and 24 minutes after the first ball was fired, the final point went to Nadal. It was only the third time in his career, and the first time in a Grand Slam final, to come back 2-0 to win. It was more than a win, more than a comeback. This was proof of how miraculous the results of never giving up and not accepting defeat can be. The great champion who posing on crutches five months ago had a trophy this time. There are too many differences to count between the two photos…