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They entered the field in May, they left it in June. And in the end, as usually happens at Roland-Garros, it was Rafael Nadal who raised his arms to the sky. At the end of a dizzying match, the Spanish player won, on the night of Tuesday, May 31, to Wednesday, May 1Ahem June, his rival Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the Parisian tournament (6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 [7-4]). Possible last dance between two tennis giants, their 59me The clash on the circuit lasted well into the night, ending the afternoon session after 04:12.
“The truth is that in every match I play I don’t know if it will be the last here, at Roland-Garros and in my career”, Rafael Nadal warned before the match. The Mallorcan started the game as if he wanted to go into orbit. Forget about the inevitable foot injury by doing it. “live with pain” every day for years and this body with soon thirty-six springs. Although he hates night sessions, the player still wants to experience Parisian nights. In front of his entire clan, a sign that they also feel that the goal is drawing near, the Spaniard pushed the inexorable man back.
An elderly couple who know each other by heart, Nadal and Djokovic still manage to surprise each other, after 58 meetings around the world. In this unparalleled rivalry, the truth of one day is not the truth of the next day. Do we think Nadal was tired from his long matchup with Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the previous round? He attacks mercilessly, seeming to go for the entry knockout. Facing Novak Djokovic, one of the few who has found the key to defeating him on his favorite surface, Rafael Nadal knows that any inaccuracy, any hesitation will be exploited at will. Thus, finding his shots of yesteryear, with formidable depth and returning inexorably, the Spanish player took control of the exchanges. In 2020 this strategy paid off, and the Mallorcan corrected his rival in the final of the Paris tournament. In 2021, it was not enough: despite a bagged first set, Nadal had relinquished the crown from him to Djokovic.
An audience in unison behind “Rafa”
this 59me Will the clash of summits be the last? She had the scent of it. The Parisian afternoon crowd made no mistake, holding their ground in the stands. If Nadal has not always been saved over the years from the Roland-Garros public, who preferred the aesthetic of Roger Federer to him or simply an outsider, time does his job. And at a time when the Mallorcan slides into a press conference that could be his last dance at Roland-Garros, Paris prefers vertigo to silence. And he pushed the “clay king” to extend his reign until the end of the night.
Once again reduced to the role of the other, the opponent of the hero, the one who prevents celebrating in circles, Novak Djokovic did not dismount. The defending champion ended up flourishing in this unloved role, he who suffered so much to pick up only the crumbs of love and recognition left by Federer and Nadal.
Revanchard, after a disgruntled tackle against a rival who had regained his precision as a clay-court surveyor, the world number 1 did not give up. “I didn’t start well, but going back to a round everywhere, I thought I was back.”, exposed the Serbian after the meeting. In turn, after having started the second set badly, Djokovic took control of an unconventional part, where the two dancers never got into rhythm. Hampered in his quest for greatness at the Australian Open by the country’s health regulations, and his choice not to get vaccinated against covid-19, the Serb had no intention of relinquishing his title without a fight.
“Come on Rafa, you are the most stubborn”, claimed a spectator at the beginning of the third set. Reference to the Roland Garros quote engraved from this year on the frontispiece of the temple of tennis that is the Philippe-Chatrier court, “Victory belongs to the most stubborn”. In this matter, the “Manacor bull” would even be almost stubborn.
Anchored in his certainties and on this clay court that has become his kingdom, Rafael Nadal lives in the moment. If he were to happen to win a fourteenth Porte d’Auteuil title on Sunday, the Spaniard could burn “Not tomorrow” on the ocher of the central court, so much his trajectory is “it costs what it costs”. ” Said [lors du tournoi de] Rome that I was going to have my doctor with me here. And that having my doctor here allows me to do things that give me relief”blew the man to twenty-one Grand Slam trophies, promising to work ” when [son] the tournament will be over ».
“I don’t know what will happen next”
Disabled for years due to a necrosis of the scaphoid bone -Muller-Weiss syndrome- in his left foot, which leaves him little respite, Nadal does not hide that the treatments he receives could accelerate the end of his career. “I am giving everything I have to try to play this tournament in the best possible conditions. I don’t know what can happen aftersummarizes. But here, I think it will be fine. »
For his part, Novak Djokovic has not “not surprised at all” for the umpteenth rebirth of his rival. “It is not the first time that he has shown himself to be 100 percent able to come back and physically ready, days after being injured and barely able to walk.noted number 1 in the world. He has done it many times in his career. »
On the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, the Serb had the opportunity to equalize in two sets from all sides, but it failed to materialize. On the contrary, after a decisive one-sided game, his Spanish opponent won the match without trembling.
“He managed to play his best tennis at key moments, he deserves this victory, without a doubt”Djokovic acknowledged. If in his hand, the number 1 in the world continues to lead, 30 wins against 29, it is not in his garden at Roland-Garros where he will catch up with his rival in the number of Grand Slam tournaments won. Two steps away from a new coronation, and after his demonstration in the quarterfinals, Rafael Nadal will be a favorite for the semifinal against the German Alexander Zverev (number 3 in the world), on Friday, and for a possible final.
“It was a very intense night. It is for these moments that I continue playing ”, the winner smiled. If the meeting smelled like the end, for the “great shared history” linking Nadal and Djokovic, who will turn 36 on Friday, the day of the semifinal, does not think he has arrived. “It’s only a few quarter-finals, I haven’t won anything”insists Nadal, for whom “The main goal is to maintain the level I played at today.”
There is a reassuring je-ne-sais-quoi to listening to Rafael Nadal’s groans setting the pace of exchanges. At Roland-Garros, where they have rocked the crowd since 2005, they have the soothing aroma of a cupcake. The day the Mallorcan puts away the racket, his shouts will haunt the center court, memories of his glory years. If that day is getting closer, the Majorcan insinuating that this year his passage through the Porte d’Auteuil could sound like a death knell, Nadal has again postponed the deadline. “I just gave myself the opportunity to return to this court in two days”savored the player, who did not skimp on his ” thank you thank you thank you “ (in French in the text) to the public at the end of the match.