By Jürgen Fritz, Mon 06 Jun 2022, Cover photo: Roland Garros-Screenshot
This performance will go down in sporting history. There has probably never been anything comparable across all disciplines: Rafael Nadal won Roland Garros for the 14th time and won his 22nd Grand Slam title. Now it became known that he was only able to play the whole tournament at all with injections in nerves of his foot.
Nadal could only play Roland Garros because his foot was made numb for every match
Rafael Nadal won Roland Garros, the world’s toughest tournament, for the 14th time and won his 22nd Grand Slam title. Both are unprecedented in the history of tennis since 1877 (first staging of Wimbledon). By comparison, the previous record for Roland Garros victories was six wins by Björn Borg (1974 to 1981) for the men and seven wins by Chris Evert (1974 to 1986) for the women. The eternal record for Grand Slam titles was 14 (Pete Sampras 1990 to 2002) until the unique triumvirate of Federer (20), Nadal (now 22) and Djokovic (20).
But now Nadal told how this renewed triumph – and with the most difficult draw of all players (he had to beat four top ten players in a row, including No. 1 Djokovic and No. 3 Zverev) – was even possible. Nadal stated that at Roland Garros he had always had two nerves in his foot numbed with injections before each of the seven matches. During the matches, the Spaniard’s injured foot was then numb. At times, one also had the impression that he could bounce less high on serve than usual because of it and therefore served less hard.
„It was a very tough and emotional two weeks“, Nadal pointed out at the press conference after his victory: „I got injections to numb the foot and that’s how I was able to play. I had no feeling in my foot.“ So there had been a risk of seriously injuring himself in another place, but also because the French Open meant so much to him, he had done it. This was necessary, he said, „because this was my only opportunity to play here.“ Last year he had been eliminated in the semi-finals against Djokovic, also with severe pain in his foot from the third set onwards.
Irony of fate: Nadal’s most dangerous opponent retired with a foot injury
It was then, of course, a particular irony of fate that in this year’s semi-final, in perhaps his toughest match of all, his opponent Alexander Zverev, after more than three hours of incredible hitting, twisted his ankle so badly that several ligaments in his foot tore and he was unable to continue. The player with a severe handicap in his foot thus won his most difficult match because his opponent injured his foot even more severely.
Nadal has been suffering from the rare Müller-Weiss syndrome for 17 years, a deformation of the bones in his foot, which has always led to other injuries in the knee area (patella tendinitis, I know it very well, I had it too), etc. Therefore, there had been speculation before the match whether the 36-year-old would announce his retirement from active sport directly after the final.
I will keep fighting to stay in contention and will try to compete at Wimbledon
At the award ceremony on the court, Nadal then first made it clear that he was not thinking of quitting for the time being: „I don’t know what else can happen in the future, but I will keep fighting to stay in the competition.“ At the press conference, the announcement then sounded less clear: „My tennis career has always been my priority in life, but has never been more important than my personal happiness. Let’s see if I can continue like this and continue to be happy playing tennis. If I am not, I will do something else.“
He said he hoped a new therapy would kick in from next week. If it does, he said he also wants to compete at Wimbledon, which starts in three weeks. „If that works, I will continue to play, if not, we will have to see. Then I’ll have to see if I’m ready to go for another major surgery without knowing if the problem will really improve and if I’ll ever be able to play at the highest level again.“ But he would be reluctant to miss Wimbledon, the tournament with the most tradition in the world: „I’ll be at Wimbledon if my body allows it,“ Nadal said: „It’s not a tournament I want to miss.“
But if Nadal’s foot problems and pain do not improve, his career could be over
But if the new therapy does not bring a clear improvement for the damaged foot and surgery does not lead to the desired success, then we have to reckon with the fact that Rafa could soon hang up his racket. For millions of fans worldwide and for tennis itself, this would be a huge loss, especially since Rafa, even at 36 and with a numb foot, is still playing at an almost unbelievable level. After all, 23-year-old Ruud didn’t stand a chance in Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory in the final.
And among players and fans worldwide, Rafa is as popular as Roger Federer, who has not been able to play for two years due to a serious knee injury and will soon be 41, but who wants to return to the tour, perhaps to say goodbye on the court. So it could be that this year the two greatest ambassadors of tennis will end their careers, although in the case of Nadal there is at least a little hope that we will see him again next year in Paris on Court Philippe Chartrier, on his court.
Nadal leads the Big Titles ahead of Djokovic and Federer
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