Roland Garros 2024: Until the end, Nadal will be Nadal | Tennis | Sports


Roland Garros – first round – That’s how it went

Time continues to take away from the old champion what he loves most. Rafael Nadal loves what he does so much, he finds competing so fulfilling, that he is resigned to saying goodbye yet. But, just in case, the Chatrier audience respectfully stands up – also made up of Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek – and applauds excitedly at the close of this episode resolved with the logic that was presumed beforehand: 6-3 , 7-6(5) and 6-3 for Alexander Zverev, after 3h 05m. Could it have been the last time? Is this goodbye? “Probably,” says the protagonist, 14 Musketeers Cups and tons of mystique behind him, “but I can’t be one hundred percent sure.” The afternoon has an aroma of farewell, nostalgia is breathed on all four sides and he, still childish in spirit, heads into the locker room cheered after the lapse in age: “I wish they were 28, and not 38…”. He wants to return in a couple of months, at the summer Games. And later, he leaves it in the air, we will see. But, “if it’s the last time,” he points out, “I’ve enjoyed it. I am at peace.”

From the moment luck paired him with Zverev, the Spanish tennis player knew that the route could be short. The German, 27 years old and number four in the world, was perhaps the least appealing rival. He was in growing shape to win Rome. And he, on the other hand, regretted not having had more time without limitations. “It was not the ideal first round, of course,” says Nadal, who had never lost in the first round of Roland Garros and whom until today, only the Swede Robin Soderling (2009) and the Serbian Djokovic (2015) had been able to defeat in Paris. and 2021). Nadal still has tennis to give and give away, surely to surpass the vast majority of players. But time is a blessed element, that which forgives no one. He arrived short of sensations and the premature crossing with the German sealed this ephemeral passage through the Bois de Boulogne. Actually, a personal victory for him. “It is difficult for him to show a higher level than what I have offered today; in this situation, I mean,” he conveys. And surely he is right.

They are two tennis players at two different speeds and in two very different realities. That Zverev came into the duel several lengths ahead is clear from the first shots, in which he already dominates and Nadal is at his mercy. The Spanish also starts falsely, with three bad touches that open an ugly and inopportune scenario, resulting in a break in entry. Bad signal to open your mouth: a poorly calibrated drop shot, a double fault and a backhand into the net. The German rounds off the first acceleration with an undeniable winner who traces the afternoon route and tilts the terrain, the slope becoming more pronounced because the reverse of the legend does not work and the giant, a player who evolves towards sporting maturity and now reads the action better. Second breakand more uphill.

Zverev and Nadal greet each other after the match.MOHAMMED BADRA (EFE)

This Zverev has little or rather nothing to do with that of other times. Complaints, excuses and outbursts are disappearing from his catalog, while his tennis gains ground and progress to amend those flaws that distorted it; that is, a brittle forehand, the skids of double faults and a certain clumsiness in movements, especially vertical ones. But, above all, the German has been getting rid of laziness and has been putting on a suit full of good arguments. This is how he manages to overcome Nadal’s Parisian immensity when the Mallorcan, always there, no matter what, activates the old machine and summons his army of ghosts in the second set. An entire empire on the charge. In other times, the situation would have been insurmountable, but not this time. Time and its dictates, which do not forgive.

The old machine

Excessively temporizing in the first section, the Spaniard goes over the precipice midway through the second round, in which Zverev has a double option to make it 3-1. Reaction or nothing, concludes Nadal, who avoids the fall and executes a couple of jumps that evoke that whirlwind with long hair, sleeveless and pirate pants that, almost two decades ago, burst into Paris determined to make history. Today’s big man finds it difficult to warm up, but finally he warms up—the eye, the distances, the timing— and responds to his rival’s majestic backhand with a drive deep that saves his neck and guides the game towards a different terrain. Strength may fail, but the job is not forgotten. For about an hour he refutes, he revolts, he rebels. But there is no return.

Nadal, during the match.
Nadal, during the match.Stephanie Lecocq (REUTERS)

From his vantage point and that 1.98 that allows him to produce shots loaded with venom, direction and precision, no matter where the ball comes from, Zverev counter-hits, while the public appreciates Nadal’s heroic and innate instinct to try to overcome the most difficult circumstances. adverse events, no matter how much logic says that this time it is very difficult to find an escape. He even serves to close the second set, but gets stuck. The lack of rhythm and automatisms are noticeable, also the absence of last year – he had not competed on this track for two years – and, above all, the 38 years that he is about to reach. His body, he says, is sending him signals from afar, and so does his age with his hand. Law of life, no one is exempt. And the one from Hamburg, a decade younger, signs the 5-5 with a blank break and when push comes to shove, he pilots the exchanges with determination.

Nadal, strange, or perhaps today not so strange, strangely throws two drop shots that perhaps the script did not call for in the tiebreaker and, now, what was already complicated drifts towards the utopian. Two sets down, against the ropes, just out of gas and doomed to an immediate and unprecedented departure from Paris, his second home, the determination to continue holding on to the match tooth and nail draws applause from the French public again and again, which warns the irreducible spirit of always in the myth that is now slowly coming to an end. Even in tow, already behind in the third set, the Spaniard celebrates points like the first day and throws a couple of wrist shots, a trademark. Honor, heart, soul. From the first to the last kilometer, Nadal competes like Nadal. But there we find Zverev, impeccable, winner, elegant in his speech—remembering his adversary first—and author of a triumph that, “maybe yes, maybe no,” who knows, could have meant the hero’s farewell to his homeland. . Time and the tyranny of it.

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