SShortly after Rafael Nadal secured his supreme quarter-final victory over Novak Djokovic, as the amazement of his four-plus-hour effort hung in the air among the thousands still in attendance, Marion Bartoli ended his post-match interview with a plea, practically begging Nadal to commit to returning next year. It’s fair to say he didn’t: “See you in two days is all I can say,” he smiles.
Nadal’s effort in the early hours of Wednesday was supreme. Beyond even the discussion of his physical condition, Nadal had arrived in the quarter-finals with some of his worst preparation for such a match in Paris. He had never, in his 17 years of competition here, played the French Open without reaching a single Masters 1000 final during the clay-court season that year. For all the resilience of Félix Auger-Aliassime in their five-set fourth-round match, in both sets lost Nadal hit a total of 28 unforced errors against just 13 winners. By his standards, it was disastrous.
He didn’t just raise his level from the all-time great before him, but his level was stratospheric from the start. He came out of the gates bullying Djokovic in the opening exchanges, dropping his forehand at will, and even though Nadal had also started fast in their previous two matches in Paris, even with the data Djokovic has compiled over their 58 previous matches. matches, he was initially unprepared to match it. The way Nadal finished the match was equally impressive, with the prospect of a fifth set looming as Djokovic led 5-3 and then created two set points on his serve, he raised his level again exactly as needed.
Beyond another superlative display from Nadal, the most notable aspect of his new run at Roland Garros has been the doubt he has continually cast on his future beyond this tournament. Nadal hasn’t always been the most reliable analyst when it comes to his conditioning and preparation to win a tournament. Despite his ability to transcend form and physical issues time and time again, he often manages expectations and has always been open about his doubts.
His tendency to downplay his form or condition before a tournament, only to return to success afterwards, prompted a curious comment from Djokovic: “I’m not at all surprised. It’s not the first time he’s been able – days after he was injured and barely walking – to be fully fit,” he said.
But it is reasonable to believe that it is different. His chronic condition, Mueller-Weiss Syndrome, is an ailment he has had since his youth and as a degenerative syndrome it was likely to become a major contributing factor before his career was over. In Paris, Nadal made a distinction between his prospects during the tournament, which he believes will be good, versus what happens afterwards without a long-term solution for his foot. He stressed the need to take advantage of this year given the doubt about his future beyond.
Nadal said one of the main differences between the Italian Open, when he couldn’t move in his loss to Denis Shapovalov in his last match before the French Open, and Paris is that he has his doctor, Ángel Ruiz Cotorro, with him here. , helping to treat the injury. Nadal says he will discuss his current situation afterwards.
“We’ll talk after the tournament,” he said in Spanish. “Right now, we’re leaving everything on the pitch, no doubt. I don’t know what happens after here. But I said after Rome and also here that I could compete and that’s what I’m doing. This is not the time to give many explanations, but I have some. After the tournament, once I’m done, I’ll explain.
Despite the intensity and significance of Nadal’s victory, the brutal nature of a quarter-final match between Djokovic and Nadal remains a big part of the tournament. While it’s reasonable to predict that Nadal will go through the rest of the draw as always after defeating the best player in the world, he now faces the third best ranked.
Alexander Zverev showed his own ability in his quarter-final win over Carlos Alcaraz and he’s clearly relishing the current position he finds himself in, far from the hype he commanded in his youth, completely ignored. It would be unwise to neglect it again. Still, Nadal has positioned himself ideally as he chases his 14th title in Paris.