Rafael Nadal speaks of a magical night after beating Novak Djokovic at dawn on Wednesday in Paris. It is, magic, one of the factors that can explain this idyll that he maintains with this court, with this tournament, with this city. There are 110 wins for thirteen titles, three losses. That they are only data that do not explain practically anything either. He doesn't understand much either: "I managed to get the level when apparently I didn't have it." How? "This track is special, it has something unique." The spell of the Chatrier.
Nadal relies on his relationship with the track and on nostalgia more than on that battered foot that marks the hours. He sees the clock running, 36 years tomorrow, and his phrases, although they make the staff tremble, leave nothing but evidence.
"It may be my last game in Paris, that's my situation," he left in the preview, also playing in that mental game in which the Balearic is always immersed, against any rival, especially against Djokovic. Then, the relative joy that there will be more Nadal in Paris: "I haven't won anything yet, I've only given myself the opportunity to play a semifinal at Roland Garros again."
If magic is an emotional factor, there is another more important one that is almost physical, since the head and the body are one when they are aligned. It's been three agonizing months this spring. How were the six months of 2021 yesterday. How were the knees or the wrist the day before yesterday. After a brilliant start, 21 wins in a row, one stoppage, another, due to a rib. Unable to train, to play, to compete. And solved the chest incident, the problem reappears. In uppercase. The split scaphoid. The unsolvable injury. No shooting and no bites on the trip to the Eiffel tower. « I am not injured. I am a player who lives with constant injury. That is my day to day », he explained of his routine.
It is true that Djokovic helped something to stay in Paris, surprised, out of tune, challenged, impotent, because only before the greats do you get, from where there did not seem to be, all the potential to improve yourself. Especially Nadal. Because both play tennis not for titles, much less for money. It is an unlimited ambition, which in sport is understood, encouraged and applauded because it is what builds legends, and which Nadal trains and sharpens with these matches.
Because Nadal, in Paris, is everything, he plays with everything, he wins with everything: legs, heart, hands, head, past, present, future. «He is one of the athletes in all history with the most powerful mentality. An overly competitive player. And these are essential requirements for a tournament like Roland Garros, the only one on clay to five sets. This makes it the hardest Grand Slam of all, and that is why Rafa has only lost three matches in all these years. And he has won thirteen, so far. To beat him here you have to scratch perfection, ”Jordi Arrese, Olympic silver in Barcelona 92 and analyst at Eurosport, explains to this newspaper.
Nadal, who has trained to the limits of the clock when serving, wins when the body does not reach him, wins when the other does not trust to beat him, even if he is winning. It is the ambition to be better than oneself, which can only be achieved by being better than the rival, who fights for the same thing.”He always finds the best version of himself on this track. Technically, tactically and mentally he is much stronger than most. One of the few he has a clay court pattern that allows him to do everything at a speed that almost no one else can. He is an incredible player who always improves himself », adds Arrese.
"It's the best game I've played in the last four months," said the protagonist. Four hours and eleven minutes to weave a cage in which the Serbian fell, gripped, unbecoming of a number 1, because he is not when he plays against Nadal. He is a Djokovic who aspires to be the best in history, but knows that he never will be. At least not in Paris. Never in Paris. The stands tell him, always with Nadal, like never this year with Nadal. Magic. But it's not magic, it's Nadal. Christmas in Paris.