When, together with Jaume Pujol-Galceran, we decided to write the first authorized biography of Rafael Nadal in 2007 (Chronicle of a phenomenon), the player’s family from Manacor prohibited us from clearly explaining the injury he had suffered since he was 15 years old and which has led to the Syndrome of Müller-Weis, which now grips him. That injury forced the tennis player to rethink his sports career. To the point that his father, Sebastián, came to suggest the possibility of making his way in other less physically demanding sports, if necessary.
In a conversation with one of the most prestigious podiatrists in the world who worked with him, he told me that he could continue competing for a few more years. Back then, Rafa had won three major titles and was beginning to design an unstoppable legend. Rafa traveled to the United States, where Nike designed special shoes for him to avoid the pain he felt every time he forced his left foot. He learned to suffer, to adapt all his musculature to the new conditions that his physique demanded of him. And he did.
To the point of becoming the tennis player who, with 22, has won the most Grand Slam titles. His career has been an ordeal, plagued by knee and back injuries. But all this has served to develop a defensive shield against pain. In 2009, after playing a tough semifinal against Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open, Nadal was devastated. With his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, they were even considering leaving before the final. “I can’t take it anymore”, he confessed to Toni. “Let’s see Rafa,” his uncle replied. “If I now pointed a gun at you and told you I was going to shoot, what would you do?” “Run away,” Rafa replied. “Well, that’s what you have to do now, because you have the chance to be the first Spaniard to win in Melbourne.”
He went out and beat Roger Federer. But the words of Toni – an indispensable mentor – only pushed him out. Once in the final, it was his ability to suffer that ended up giving him the victory. And having had to deal with adversity so many times, having had to overcome so many obstacles, constantly feel the pain so close and, obviously, the quality of his tennis is what has given him the mental strength he needed to have the rise he had in his duels against Federer and now against Serbian Novak Djokovic.
After beating Ruud in the Roland Garros final, everyone was waiting for Nadal’s message. At 36, his future could be questioned. But, the Manacorí announced that as long as his body did not say enough, he would return. And it will be difficult for the new generations to win in Paris at least next year.
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