“Playing in the final against “Rafa” at Roland-Garros is surely the biggest challenge in this sport. It seems absolutely impossible, but I will try, as the thirteen others have tried before me. » Like the thirteen others before him, Casper Ruud came, he saw, he lost. On Sunday June 5, Rafael Nadal won his fourteenth title on clay in Paris (6-3, 6-3, 6-0), the twenty-second in a Grand Slam, relegating his two great rivals, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
The challenge was simply dizzying for the young Norwegian (23), who had never ventured to these heights, stalling until then at the stage of the round of 16 in the Grand Slam. Even more when we face for the first time on the circuit the one we idolize since we were 6 years old. “Today, I was able to get an idea of what it’s like to face you on this court in the final”, said Casper Ruud to the Spaniard, smirking at the end of the match.
“What is happening to me this year is completely insane, it’s very hard to describe the feelings I feel, to win again at 36 on this most important court of my career, it means so much”, stammered Rafael Nadal when receiving the Musketeers Cup from the hands of American legend Billie Jean King, under the gaze of King Felipe VI.
Arrived on one hop at Porte d’Auteuil
Never mind that this match was not a summit – it has often been so since the left-hander’s first coronation in 2005. Never mind that the winner evolved far from his standards for two sets, on a Philippe -Chatrier in the open. In a few years, everyone will have chased it from their memory. All that will remain of this duel is its outcome and the thickness of the piece of history. As a bonus, the Spaniard allowed himself, on Sunday, to win one of the last records that resisted him at Porte d’Auteuil: he became the oldest winner of the tournament, overtaking his compatriot Andres Gimeno fifty years ago.
At 36 years and two days, the Mallorcan will soon have no locks of hair to fold behind his ears before serving. But in the meantime, on Parisian clay, he continues to defy the laws of gravity. And, even more, those of time.
Never had the master of the place plowed the land so little before joining his kingdom, first diminished by a fractured rib, before the pain in his left foot suddenly woke up in Rome three weeks ago. Did the phoenix come back to life in Australia in January only to be better consumed? When he hopped into Paris, the question was whether he would be able to defend his chances. Throughout the fortnight, his foot (anesthetized he confided) was a subject of debate, but he held on somehow, after an obstacle course.
Never had the Spaniard been so jostled in the second week in a table that did not give him a gift. In the round of 16, it took him five sets to defeat Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, protected by his uncle and ex-coach, Toni Nadal. In a final before the hour, he then took his revenge at the end of the night on the Serbian Novak Djokovic, who had extinguished him in the semi-finals last year.
In the semi-finals, finally, he suffocated less than two sets but more than three hours before Alexander Zverev’s ankle slipped, forcing the German to retire. Who knows what would have happened without this nudge of fate?
After all that, no one imagined him stumbling over the final hurdle. Not with his iron will, he who professed after his title at the US Open in 2019: “I can fail technically or tennistically, but I don’t allow myself to fail mentally. » At 36, Rafael Nadal grimaces, but still stands. Broken everywhere, patched up, but not knocked out yet.
A fortnight between wanderings and flamboyance
In the end, his fortnight will have alternated between wanderings and flamboyance, in a stadium which unanimously supported him, even if he was not always the favorite in the past. On Sunday, he received from the fifteen thousand spectators, standing, the same ovation as since his entry into the running on May 23. In the same way that he had resuscitated in Melbourne after five months of convalescence, in Paris, Rafael Nadal thwarted all predictions. With all that remains of rage and courage. Clinging to this crazy dream of triumphing for the fourteenth time on “his” land. The last ?
This week, he cast doubt on the rest of his career. “To be frank, every game I play here may be my last at Roland-Garros, or even in my career, who knows? » The Spaniard even claimed to willingly exchange a last coronation in his kingdom against the promise of a new foot. “I prefer to lose the final and have a new foot that would allow me to be happy every day. Winning fills you with momentary joy, but I have a life waiting for me afterwards, that’s the most important thing, and I would like to be able to play amateur sports there with my friends…”, he said on Friday.
In his speech at the awards ceremony, he was less alarming: “I don’t know what the future holds for me but I will keep fighting,” he promised the public, even if he refrained from giving him an appointment next year.
“Playing with an anesthetized foot exposes me to other problems, it was a risk I was willing to take here, but not for longer. I can’t and I don’t want to go on like this.” then explained Nadal, who will test another treatment from next week before deciding what to do next. “What still drives me to continue is not trying to win more Grand Slams than others, it’s the passion for the game, playing in front of full stadiums, but if I don’t feel more competitive I will have no more pleasure”, he continued.
At the twilight of his career, the Philippe-Chatrier court remained his fortress. In 2005, the fiery 19-year-old lay there for the first time, arms outstretched, back against the ground. No matter what the future holds for him, after seventeen years of reign, the Spaniard can calmly hand over the keys to his kingdom.