Rafael Nadal falls apart on clay, just in time for the French Open

ROME – Quick and important in the first against Denis Shapovalov, Rafael Nadal was at odds over the expansion of the Italian Open on Thursday night.

late for the ball. Limping of content. Grimacing and wincing even in changeovers. His frustration was seen as both a misdemeanor and a non-conspiracy to commit late in the final set which even Canadian fans sitting high in the middle court gave Congratulations to Nadal as their teammate Shapovalov gave the final touch on his victory, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, in the round of 16.

Shapovalov, an elastic and explosive left-hander ranked No. 16, there are tools to trouble even a healthy Nadal. He won his first match in 2017 when Shapovalov was still a teenager, and had to beat him in last year’s round of 16 of the Italian Open when he failed to change two points. He also pushed Nadal to the fifth hour of the Australian Open this year.

But this is far from healthy Nadal, with his left-wing problem, called Müller-Weiss disease, resurfacing at his favorite spot. With the French Open looming, his mind in the background was as downbeat and pensive as I can remember in nearly 20 years after his tenure.

“I think there will be times when my head will say ‘About’,” Nadal, the 10-time Italian Open winner, said in Spanish, pursing his lips and shaking his head. “Illness erodes your happiness, not just in tennis but in life. And my problem is many days I live with too much pain. “

Nadal said he also had to live with taking “a ton of immunity every day to give me the ability to train.”

“It’s my truth,” he said. “And there have been many days, like today, when the time comes that I can not.”

He finished with 34 illegal assists and just 13 wins on Thursday, and the question now is whether the best player in history can still play at the French Open, He has won the Grand Slam record 13 times.

“I would dream about that goal,” Nadal said of the match. “The bad thing is today he can not play for me, but maybe in two days things are better. That is what I have on my feet.”

The French Open will start on the ninth day on May 22, although Nadal will not be available until May 24 due to the French Open, which starts on Sunday, the first stage over three days.

Although Nadal, who will turn 36 next year, has often been described as a battle and a force to be reckoned with, this will be a match like no other for him in Paris. in the spring.

“It is good to see that he is patient in the end; I never wanted to see that, especially with legends like Rafa, “said Shapovalov, who still has to build big tennis clubs and work hard to win on Thursday. “Well. It brings a lot to our sport. Hopefully it fits and prepares for France.”

At the same time that Nadal overcame Roland Garros without winning the clay-court match before last year or 2020, the spread-short period at the start of the French Open moved on. to October and almost the entire clay-court season was suspended. .

This year, the times have returned to normal but not for Nadal. After a frustrating start to the season, with 20 straight wins and a record 21st Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open, his clay court was delayed by the strain on his ribs that left him Do not compete or practice regularly for six weeks. .

He returned to the Madrid Open this month and was frustrated by 19-year-old Spanish forward Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals and has now faced his worst ever defeat at the Italian Open since 2008, when Juan Carlos Ferrero, former No. now Alcaraz coach, surprising Nadal in the second.

Nadal won the 2008 French Open, however, becoming his manager Roger Federer in the final, but Nadal already won titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Hamburg that year.

Meanwhile, he’s short of winning and winning on clay while creating threats like Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas, and newcomers like Alcaraz, have established stability.

“In the end even the best players can’t hold Father Time,” said Brad Stine, an American veteran coach currently working with Tommy Paul. “He got there for Rafa. What he did in Australia was special, but I think we saw the devastation of his start very well. If he is healthy, he is still a favorite week in and week out, but that’s a big one. ‘If the body breaks’ does not include Kipling’s poem.

That’s an application for “Yes,” an excerpt from which has been placed on players entering Wimbledon’s Center Court.

It is hard after 15 years of watching Nadal almost always overcome adversity and the struggles of Roland Garros to think that he will never find a way to create competition.

“I will fight for it,” he said grimly. “I’m going to believe more for a week and a half now.”

What is certain is that, for a change, it should not be liked. “There is no way,” said Mark Petchey, a veteran trainer and analyst. “A lot of co-op enthusiasts and players have a chance to win.”

His longer names include defending champion, Djokovic; last year another finalist, Tsitsipas; Alcaraz; Alexander Zverev; Casper Ruud; and young Italian Jannik Sinner.

Nadal, since losing to Djokovic in the four-hour semifinals in Paris last June, has played five matches on clay, losing two of them.

Watching him strike, then finally hobble on Thursday, is a warning that nothing lasts forever, not even Nadal at the place where he did it himself.

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