England’s Wimbledon: While watching Rafael Nadal sigh as he discussed how “very sad” he was about withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinals due to a torn abdominal muscle, it was impossible not to think ahead, to what awaits Rafael Nadal.
It was impossible to help but think back to a month ago, when Nadal, then 36, won the French Open at the oldest age ever and then expressed doubt that he would even play at the All England Club due to chronic left foot pain that necessitated nerve-numbing injections just so he could compete in Paris.
Unavoidably, thoughts turned to a year ago at Centre Court, when Roger Federer lost in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and withdrew, clearly suffering from a problematic right knee that would soon require his third surgery in roughly 18 months. Federer hasn’t competed since and will turn 41 in a month.
One cannot help but wonder if Nadal’s recent struggles with staying healthy — he also missed time this season with a rib injury, and the second half of last season because of his foot — could affect how much he is willing to keep pushing his body. These two exceptional athletes, forever linked as rivals and greats of the game, may be at different stages of approaching the end of their careers.
Both of them will eventually leave the sport. As will the other member of the “Big Three,” Novak Djokovic, who played Cam Norrie on Friday in what ended up being the lone men’s semifinal, at some point.
To be honest with you, Nick Kyrgios, who benefited from Nadal’s withdrawal and reached his first Grand Slam final, said: “I don’t think anyone’s able to fill those shoes.” “Rafa is a competitor we won’t ever see again. Never before have you seen someone handle a racquet with such grace as Roger. Most likely, Djokovic is the only player you’ll ever see who consistently wins and plays the game at an incredibly high level.
Nadal has a male Grand Slam record of 22, two more than the 35-year-old Djokovic and the 41-year-old Federer.
When they pass away, Kyrgios predicted that “it will be a sad day.”
Nadal was questioned about his decision to play against Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinals on Wednesday despite being in excruciating pain from the first set on. He persevered for five complete sets over almost four and a half hours.
He responded with a few interesting things.
He is certain that continuing to play made sense because he could — after all, reality proves possibility — and, of course, he won.
He has only done so nine times in 1,275 matches over the course of his career, or three times in 351 Grand Slam matches, to end a match.
He doesn’t question the decisions he’s made in the past, though he does try to grow from his mistakes.
Although he’s proud of himself for finishing the game, he made what he called a “decision thinking about your health and your future” on Thursday after learning more about the severity of the injury.
Nadal predicted that the abdominal issue might keep him out of action for only about a month. He hopes to resume practicing groundstrokes in about a week; serving will have to wait. He is confident in his ability to maintain a schedule that includes the U.S. Open, the year’s final Grand Slam event, which begins on August 29.
As I’ve always said, happiness is more important to me than any title, even though everyone is aware of the amount of work I put into getting here, according to Nadal. But I can’t take a chance on that match and sit out for two or three months, as that will be difficult for me.
Even though he won the first two legs at the Australian Open and French Open for the first time in 2022, he said he was unconcerned at all about trying to pursue a calendar-year Grand Slam by going 4 for 4 at the sport’s four major championships.
I thought about my daily happiness and my daily work, he insisted.
How long he can remain healthy enough to happily work and compete is the question for both of us.