ROME. Raphael Nadal, who quickly dominated the first set against Denis Shapovalov, was quite the opposite in the Italian Open on Thursday night.
The ball is kicked out of play. Sit between items. Wrinkle և Wrinkle even when changing. His anxiety was so obvious that double faults and inappropriate mistakes accumulated in the final set that even the Canadian fans sitting in the central stands applauded Nadal sympathetically when their compatriot Shapovalov finally touched on his victory. 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the 16th round.
Shapovalov, an elastic-explosive left-hander ranked 16th, has tools that can upset even a healthy Nadal. He beat her in their first game of 2017 When Shapovalov was still a teenager, he had to beat him in the 16th round of last year ‘s Italian Open, when he failed to convert two points. He pushed Nadal to five sets at this year ‘s Australian Open.
But this was far from healthy Nadal, as the chronic problem of his left foot, known as Mueller-Weiss disease, reappeared on his favorite surface. In the run-up to the French Open, his mood was as unlucky and thoughtful as I can remember for the next 20 years or so of his career.
“I imagine there will come a time when my head will say ‘Enough,'” said Nadal in Spanish, the 10-time Italian Open champion, clenching his lips and shaking his head. “Pain robs you of happiness not only in tennis but in life as well. And my problem is that many days I live with too much pain. ”
Nadal said he had to live “taking a ton of anti-inflammatory drugs a day to give me a chance to work out.”
“That is my reality,” he said. “And there have been many days, like today, when the time comes that I can not do it.”
He finished with 34 unforced errors on Thursday, with only 13 winners, and now the question is whether the most successful clay field player in history will even be able to compete in the French Open, the Grand Slam, which he has won a record 13 times.
“I will continue to dream about that goal,” Nadal said of the tournament. “The downside is that it is not possible for me to play today, but maybe in two days everything will be better. It’s on my feet. ”
The French Open will start in nine days on May 22, although Nadal may not have to play until May 24 as the French Open, which starts on Sunday, takes its first round in three days.
Or that Nadal, who will turn 36 next month, has often shown astonishing fighting spirit and restorative power, this will be a similar challenge for him in Paris this spring.
“It is definitely difficult to see him in pain in the end. “I never want to see that, especially in the case of a great legend like Rafa,” said Shapovalov, who still had to train a brave tennis-big server to win on Thursday. “It simply came to our notice then. He brings so much to our sport. “I hope he is fit and ready to go to the French.”
The only case when Nadal won at Roland Garros without winning the ground tournament at the beginning of the year. was in 2020The season reduced by the epidemic, when the start of the French Open was postponed to October, և almost the entire field season was canceled.
This year the schedule is back to normal, but not for Nadal. After a tumultuous start to the season with 20 consecutive victories, a record 21st Grand Slam title. Australian Openhis clay-field campaign was postponed stress fracture in his ribs, which prevented him from competing or training normally for six weeks.
He returned to the Madrid Open this month, outraged by the 19-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaras In the quarter-finals, he now suffered his earliest defeat in the Italian Open since 2008 when Juan Carlos Ferrero, the former No. 1 who now coaches Alcaraz, surprised Nadal in the second round.
Nadal, however, continued to win the 2008 French Open, defeating his arch-rival Roger Federer in the final, but Nadal had already won the titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Hamburg that year.
He has played less this season, winning on the ground, while confirmed threats such as Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and newcomers like Alkaraz have established a stronger foothold.
“After all, even the greatest players can’t beat Father Time,” said Brad Stein, a veteran American coach who now works with Tommy Paul. “It simply came to our notice then. What he did in Australia was not exceptional, but I think we see the side effects of his great start to the season. If he is healthy, he is still a favorite every week, but it’s great. “If the body decays,” is not included in Kipling’s poem.
This is a link to “If”, part of which is placed at the entrance to the central court of Wimbledon players.
It is hard to imagine after 15 years, when Nadal almost always overcomes the misfortunes of the Roland Garros opposition, that he will not really find a way to challenge himself.
“I will fight for it,” he said grimly. “I will continue to believe during this week and a half.”
It is clear that he should not be the favorite for change. “No way,” said Mark Petchin, a veteran coach and analyst. “Lots of favorites, players who have a real chance to win.”
His longer list includes: reigning champion Djokovic; Last year’s other final was Tsitsipas; Alcaraz; Alexander Zver! Casper Rudd; and the young Italian Yannick Sinner.
Nadal because he lost to Djokovic Forty semifinals He played just five home games in Paris last June, losing two of them.
Watching him struggle and then finally weaken on Thursday reminded him that nothing is eternal, even Nadal on the surface he created.
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