Australian Open: Nadal goes from career doubts to brink of record in Melbourne

By Sports Desk January 28, 2022

Just months ago, there were doubts over Rafael Nadal's future. Now, he is a win away from a record-breaking major triumph.

Nadal overcame Matteo Berrettini 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 in the Australian Open semi-finals on Friday, reaching his 29th grand slam decider.

The Spaniard is a win away from a 21st grand slam title, which would break his tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the most won by a man.

Such events looked incredibly unlikely just months ago.

Nadal ended his 2021 season in August after playing just seven events, a persistent foot injury not only derailing his season but threatening his career.

"Everybody around me, me included, of course, but everybody around me had a lot of doubts. Not about the Australian Open, no, but about coming back on the Tour because the foot was bothering me a lot of days," Nadal said after his third-round win over Karen Khachanov.

"Of course, still today there are doubts because the foot, as I said the other day, is an injury we cannot fix … so we need to find a way that the pain is under control to play, to keep playing. That's the goal.

"Honestly, I was not able to practice very often. But when I was practising, the feeling on the ball was quite good. There have been a lot of months without competing. The movements, all this stuff, you need to recover day by day. There is no way to recover those things without competing. That's what I need, keep playing. Already three and three, so six matches on my back, and positive ones. Every day a little bit better, so I'm happy for that."

 

After a four-month absence, Nadal made his return at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi in December. Days later, he tested positive for COVID-19.

Still, he made the trip to Australia, winning his 89th ATP Tour title at the Melbourne Summer Set, his first hard-court crown since February 2020.

That success was incredible, given Nadal played just 14 tournaments in total in 2020 and 2021.

"Of course, when you are getting a little bit older, all the comebacks are tougher," Nadal said after beating Marcos Giron in the opening round. "This has been especially, well, difficult because it's not only a comeback from an injury, it's a comeback trying to be back on the Tour after almost two years playing not many events with the virus.

"If you remember in 2020 I only played here and Acapulco, then I just played in Rome, Roland Garros, Paris and London. Six events.

"In 2021 I played just here and then [it] was clay, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros. Washington, yeah. Another six events – 12 events in two years are not many. If we add that I was not able to practice very often, too, it's a really tough one, no?

"But here I am. I am super happy about all the work that we have done to try to be back. We are here enjoying the tennis, and that's it. We're going to keep trying hard."

Nadal is back. Not just back playing, but back fighting his way into grand slam finals, and back in position to make more history.

Related items

  • 'He's born for clutch situations' - Doncic salutes 'Mr Fourth Quarter' Irving 'He's born for clutch situations' - Doncic salutes 'Mr Fourth Quarter' Irving

    Luka Doncic says Kyrie Irving was "born for the clutch situations" as the Dallas Mavericks produced another late show to deny the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    The Mavs, who overcame a late two-point deficit, prevailed 116-107 in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals series, becoming the first NBA side in history to take a 3-0 series lead despite trailing in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter in each game.

    Dallas had the second-best clutch record (23-9) and best clutch offence (127.1 points per 100 possessions) during the regular season, and have continued that momentum into the playoffs.

    Indeed, they also came from behind late on in Game 6 of their conference semi-final series victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Irving scored 14 points in the fourth quarter in Game 3, and now has 31 such points this series; the most by any player in this year's conference finals.

    "Unbelievable. That's why some people call him Mr Fourth Quarter, right?" Doncic said of his team-mate. "Just amazing. He's born for these situations. He's born for the clutch situations, so we just get the ball to him."

    "Down the stretch, that's where we make our money," Irving added. "I think we have that poise now, and we're just showcasing our skill sets out there that a lot of teams have to guard, the depth that we have. A lot of teams have to guard each one of us, and you got to pick your poison."

    Irving and Doncic scored 33 points apiece to become the first starting backcourt to each register at least 30 points in three playoff games over the past 50 seasons.

    "I feel like we're both born for this if you ask me, but it's just basketball. You've got to give the game what it needs at times," said Irving, who called for focus in his franchise's quest for a second NBA title.

    "It doesn't mean anything if we don't win a ring together. Right now, I want to show a lot of respect to the guys that have come before us and have actually done it. And our time will come."

  • 'I have great memories' - Murray in reflective mood after French Open exit 'I have great memories' - Murray in reflective mood after French Open exit

    Andy Murray admits he has "great memories" of the French Open, after what was likely to be his final appearance in the men's singles at Roland Garros.

    The three-time grand slam winner, back at the season's second major for the first time since 2020, was comfortably beaten in straight sets by 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka, who ran out a commanding 6-4 6-4 6-2 victor.

    Murray, who gave an extended wave to the crowd as he exited Court Philippe-Chatrier, has repeatedly said he is approaching the end of his career, revealing in February that he does not "plan on playing much past this summer".

    And the 2016 runner-up was in a reflective mood after the conclusion of his 12th singles campaign at the French Open, where he also reached four semi-finals and a further two quarter-finals.

    "I did really well here over the years," he said. "I think the issue for me is that when you compare it to what Rafa [Nadal] or Novak [Djokovic] achieved in the same time, it obviously is minuscule," Murray said.

    "But most players would sign up for the results I've had here. I lost to Novak in five [sets], Stan in five [sets], and twice to Rafa. Obviously, no shame in that.

    "In a different time, maybe the results would have been a bit different. But I'm proud of the results that I had here, and I have great memories."

    Murray's French Open is not yet over, as he will partner compatriot Dan Evans in the men's doubles event later this week.

    Amid the constant question mark hanging over his future in tennis, the 37-year-old admits he still enjoys competing, despite his reduced fitness levels in recent years.

    "My body isn't what it was 10 years ago. I'm fully aware of that," he added. "It takes a lot of time and effort to get it in a position to go out there and compete. It's not always perfect.

    "But I still enjoy giving [it] a go and trying to get myself out there and be as competitive as possible.

    "There has been a lot of talk about the right, or best, ways to go out from playing tennis. There is no perfect ending in most scenarios.

    "I'd like to go out winning a match or winning a tournament, but it doesn't really happen that way for most players."

  • Murray's likely French Open swansong ended by wonderful Wawrinka Murray's likely French Open swansong ended by wonderful Wawrinka

    Andy Murray bowed out in the opening round of what is likely to be his final French Open appearance, following a straight-sets defeat by Stan Wawrinka.

    The Swiss ran out a commanding 6-4 6-4 6-2 victor in two hours and 19 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier, and could play Murray's compatriot Cameron Norrie in round two.

    Murray was facing Wawrinka for a third successive match at Roland Garros, having lost out to the latter in the 2020 first round and 2017 semi-finals.

    The 2015 champion stole an early advantage this time around, too, breaking in the opening game and subsequently holding to win the first set.

    A single break was also enough in the second set as Wawrinka doubled his lead.

    Murray has repeatedly said he is approaching the end of his career, revealing in February that he does not "plan on playing much past this summer".

    However, the 2016 runner-up's chances of extending what is potentially his French Open swansong were all but ended as Wawrinka broke twice in the third set for a 4-0 lead, before the 39-year-old rounded off a dominant win.

    Data Debrief

    Wawrinka (39) and Murray (37) locked horns in the second-oldest match-up at Roland Garros this century, behind the 2019 first-round showdown between Ivo Karlovic (40) and Feliciano Lopez (37).

    And the Swiss was not to be denied, as he became the oldest man to win a match at the French Open since compatriot Roger Federer three years ago.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.