The question was a bit strange but valid. After Rafael Nadal expressed his sympathy to the pitiful Alexander Zverev on Friday evening and had already spoken for a few minutes about the upcoming final against outsider Casper Ruud, a reporter at the press conference in the belly of the Court Philippe-Chatrier wanted to know exactly.
Nadal was asked what he would rather have from a “genio lámpara”, a genie in a bottle – victory in the final on Sunday or maybe a new leg? After all, the “Bull of Manacor” has been plagued by chronic foot problems for years.
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Rafael Nadal: success on feet of clay
In Paris, the 36-year-old is aiming for his 14th title, his 22nd Grand Slam victory overall. He would then have two more Major wins than his opponents Novak Djokovic (35) and Roger Federer (40), a cushion that could already be enough to hold the record for many decades. And to silence the “GOAT” debate about the “Greatest of All Time”, the greatest tennis player of all time.
But there is also the damned disease of Müller-Weiss syndrome, in which the bone tissue of the scaphoid bone in the foot skeleton dies off. With him in the left. “The pain won’t go away,” Nadal said recently about the Masters tournament in Rome after he had to take a break of several weeks: “It’s about whether the pain is so bad that I don’t stand a chance.”
This can, and Nadal is aware of it, happen almost every day. Also on Sunday. Nobody hopes so, but the 36-year-old could run out of roads on his way to the coronation.
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“He played fantastic at the beginning of the game. It was a miracle that I won the first set,” said Nadal, who stopped the game at 7: 6 (10: 8), 6: 6 with just three points more than the German had done.
Rumors in Paris say Nadal is already toying with the idea of Roland-Garros skipping the entire grass season, possibly even the US Open, to pay tribute to the hardships.
Rafael Nadal at the French Open 2022
Photo Credit: Getty Images
How much is Nadal left in the tank?
He probably won’t know how much he still has in the tank until Sunday, immediately before the start of the final. Or will only notice it during the final.
In any case, in the days of Paris he was already seen limping across the layout. That doesn’t mean anything, his camp brushed aside concerns. The next day, Nadal whizzed across the tennis court like a dervish again.
Anyone who saw how he fended off four set balls in a row at 2: 6 in the tie-break of the first set against Zverev on Friday could already think that the physical had driven into the fragile body of the Mallorquin.
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Ruud played at Nadal academy
The fact that Casper Ruud is now challenging him on Sunday is a special twist in history. Ruud, 24 and twelve years younger than Nadal, was a big fan of the Spaniard as a child. His career later even led him to the Spanish Academy in Mallorca.
“My first memory that I have of television is actually one of his matches at Roland-Garros,” the Norwegian told in January Eurosport. “I still remember him playing sleeveless against Puerta in the final, running around like a madman and taking every ball,” Ruud recalled in 2005. At that time, Nadal won his first Grand Slam title.
So the respect is great, but it shouldn’t prove to be a hindrance for the Norwegian shooting star, who has an impressive 67 percent win rate on sand. The fact that Nadal appears overpowered does not frighten him. Not his (training) record against the “King of Clay”.
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“It’s true that we played a few training sets. He always beat me,” said Ruud these days. But: “We played in his academy and I wanted to be polite,” he joked to Marca.
Wilander draws a cross-country comparison
Mats Wilander, the Swede who used to be so strong, already gave a well-intentioned tip.
Ruud had to show “a Scandinavian attitude” in the final and “make a five-hour cross-country race out of it,” he said EurosportExpert: “He has to make it clear to Nadal at the age of 36: ‘I want to see how far your feet can take you!’ Because Norwegians go very, very far in cross-country skiing.”
After all, no one knows how far the clay court king’s feet will carry him. Probably not even Nadal himself.
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