For more than fifteen years, Rafael Nadal has learned to cohabit with a “chronic and incurable” disease in his left foot, but at almost 36 years of age and with the pain worsening as Roland Garros (May 22-June 5) approaches, how long can you last?
In his favorite land, the Spanish winner of 21 Grand Slam tournaments (13 of them in Paris) will face the Parisian tournament in the most precarious way so far in his exceptional career: the clay season started later than ever (in May ) as a result of another injury (rib fracture in March), with only five games played (three wins and two losses) and without any final, something unheard of (except for 2020 due to the pandemic) in a player who has won 62 of his 91 titles on clay.
“I haven’t been injured. I am a player who lives with an injury. Nothing new”. That’s how clearly Nadal summed up the situation last week when he was once again betrayed by his left foot.
“The pain is permanent. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Today has been crazy”, he added after losing in the round of 16 of the Masters 1000 in Rome against the Canadian Denis Shapovalov (1-6, 7-5, 6-2), a match in which from the second set he was he saw them grimace in pain and limp noticeably.
Since 2005, the Balearic has suffered from osteonecrosis in a foot bone, the scaphoid (it is called Müller-Weiss syndrome). In a “chronic and incurable” degenerative disease, as the tennis player recalled in Madrid at the beginning of May.
Before journalists, Nadal usually avoids the subject, but in Rome he rarely spoke about his day-to-day life with the disease, even beyond tennis.
“I play to be happy, but the pain takes away your happiness, not only for tennis, but to live”, admitted ‘Rafa’. “My problem is that there are many days that I live with too much pain.”
“I love what I do, compete, it makes me live unforgettable moments, but there are many days when I don’t feel happy,” he insisted.
“I don’t want to play the victim, I just try to be as clear as possible: tomorrow (for last Friday) I’m going to wake up fatal. I live with loads of anti-inflammatories because if not, I can’t train, I’m lame”, he insisted.
“It is difficult for me to train many days in a row. To be competitive at the highest level, you have to move well and I can’t work on that. Sometimes it is difficult to accept the situation”.
How long will Nadal endure who has lived throughout his career with multiple injuries? Without going any further, the foot injury deprived him of the second part of the season in 2021.
“Until I put up with it and my head allows me to take on the challenge that things are like that,” Nadal replied, although he admitted that “there will come a day when my head will say ‘enough’, because you can’t live continuously with so much daily suffering.
Waiting for him to recover sufficiently to arrive at Roland Garros in good condition, ‘Rafa’ is still ‘Rafa’ and Roland Garros, where he will be accompanied by his trusted doctor, his second home.
“I don’t know what is going to happen in two days or a week,” acknowledges a Nadal who is not resigned. “I am not going to stop believing or fighting to create opportunities for myself at Roland Garros. If there’s even a remote chance of success, I’m going to be mentally prepared.”
With the confidence that playing the “best tennis” was giving him since his return from the rib injury, Nadal clings to the possibility of lifting the 14th Musketeers Cup in Paris.
“I dream of that goal (…) The only thing I need is for my foot to allow me to play,” he concluded in Rome. (D)