In October 2020, when a pandemic forced the French Tennis Federation to rerun the tournament from early autumn to late spring, Nadal competed without losing the set. He defeated Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 in the final.
However, nine months later, Djokovic took revenge, breaking Nadal’s spirit and body during the epic four-set semi-final on his way to the championship. Mueller-Weiss Syndrome, a degenerative condition of the foot that Nadal had from childhood, prevented him from playing all year round. For months in the fall, Nadal wondered if he would play.
Then the pain became impossible. After weeks of training and one tournament, Nadal won the Australian Open in January, proving once again to the world that his calculation is a terrible idea. But in recent days the pain has worsened again and most players can feel that the 2022 French Open is a different feeling than other recent memories.
“There is a lot of competition from the men,” said Stefano Tsitsipas, a Greek who lost the final to Djokovic last year after winning the first two sets. “This is something we haven’t really seen in a long time.”
The 23-year-old Tsitsias spoke of players like himself “slightly young and very hungry” who are desperate to start winning the Grand Slams and Carlos Alcaras, an ascending and dangerous 19-year-old Spanish youngster. “He seems to be playing tennis just because he enjoys the sport,” Tsitsipas said of the young Spaniard. But he made the remarks before referring to Nadal, someone he jokingly described as having won the French Open “at least 28 times”. Here is how big his presence is on this soil.
Nadal tried to diminish his mastery over Roland Garros on Friday.
He has collected dozens of red clay championships across Europe, won a dozen in Barcelona, 10 in Rome and 11 in Monte Carlo, so 13 Roland Garros makes sense, with some sort of assumption. (No, it is not. It is ridiculous.)
He also said that the results of the last two months are more important than the titles won a long time ago. Injury to the ribs made it difficult for him to sleep, especially as the rocket swayed, especially because of the violent rotation it generated even on routine strikes. Others, he said, played more and better.