It is a familiar scenario Rafael Nadal knows all too well. He knows the pain, the disappointment, the surrender to circumstances that are out of his control, the right words to describe it all and the positive attitude to face it head on.
So when the world No. 1 addressed a packed interview room at the O2 Arena in London to announce he was withdrawing from the ATP Finals, it came as no surprise that Nadal was eloquent in his delivery and knew exactly what to say.
After battling through three gruelling sets, while suffering some serious pain in his injured right knee, before losing to David Goffin 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 in their ATP Finals opener on Monday, Nadal conceded that enough was enough.
“My season is finished. Yeah, I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I did the thing that I had to do to try to be ready to play,” said Nadal, who was carrying a knee injury that forced him to pull out of the Paris Masters less than two weeks ago.
“It’s about the pain. I cannot hold with enough power to keep playing. I tried, but seriously it was a miracle to be very close in the score during the match. It really don’t make sense.”
Injury has kept Nadal out of many tournaments he wished he’d competed in. It forced him about of Olympic Games, Grand Slams, as well as multiple ATP Finals.
By now, he is an expert in accepting the reality of his body’s shortcomings.
“That’s how it works, my career, at the same time. I can’t complain,” he simply states.
“I feel very lucky about all the things that are happening to me. But on the other hand, is true that I am probably the top player that had more injuries and more troubles in the careers of everyone, no?
“Is always about this challenge. But I am used to this and I know what I have to do. I think I am ready to do it.”
Nadal knew during the match that he would never finish this tournament in London. Yet somehow he saved four match points in the second set, forced a decider, and even got one of two breaks back in that third set before he lost.
“Nadal is a unique mammal,” tweeted British doubles star Jamie Murray during the match.
We were all wondering: Why was he putting himself through this while being so evidently injured.
Ultimately he knew this was going to be his last match and he wanted to go down the only way he knows how: fighting.
He winced in pain, but roared with every break point he saved. He fell behind and stormed back. He did everything his adoring fans love to witness. Except win the match.
“Even winning, even losing, I was going to pull out because I was not enjoying on court at all. Was not fun to play like this. I really believed that I don’t deserve after this great season to spend two more days on court with this terrible feelings, no? That’s all,” he bluntly explains.
The bizarre thing is that Nadal was not too far from winning that match against Goffin. But he insists that would have never swayed his decision.
“I’m not here to have some luck to win one match. I’m here to try and win the tournament,” he told Spanish press.
“I am, of course, disappointed. But I am not going to cry. I had a great season.”
That is of course true. With two Grand Slam titles and four more trophies captured in 2017, Nadal returned to the top of the rankings and ends the year as world No. 1.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) November 13, 2017
The man whose troubled knees are as famous as he is has proven once again that no injury nor setback can keep him down for too long.
The Mallorcan says he knows exactly what he needs to do to overcome this current knee problem, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to be ready for the Australian Open next January, but “with no rush”.
There was zero hint of resentment or bitterness in Nadal’s tone of voice.
“One cannot always be frustrated. I’m a positive person in general. I try not to have big celebrations when things go well, nor big dramas when things don’t go well,” he says.
“It’s not a drama. It was a dream season, and I would have paid (money) for a season like this and I’ll stick with that.
“It’s true that I don’t like finishing like this. I believe that, on the inside, I deserved a better ending but sport does not owe anything to anyone.”
In a world riddled with entitlement, Nadal is sticking to his tried and tested method: work, suffer, accept, rinse, and repeat. A new cycle begins tomorrow.
David Goffin overcame a battling Rafael Nadal in their ATP Finals opener on Monday to post a 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 victory over the world No. 1.
Nadal, who was clearly bothered by his injured right knee, saved four match points and climbed from a break down in the second set to force a decider but faltered in the third as Goffin clinched a dramatic win.
It was Goffin’s first triumph over a reigning world No. 1 in five attempts (all his previous losses were against Djokovic) and his first at the ATP Finals, having lost his sole previous match at the tournament when he played as an alternate, replacing an injured Gael Monfils last year.
The first set was a low-quality error-strewn 54-minute tussle that saw Goffin blow an early lead, then fail to serve out the set thanks to a string of double faults, before the Belgian finally sealed the tiebreak on a netted error from Nadal.
The world No. 1 was not moving well and particularly misfiring on his backhand side.
Goffin had brief moments of brilliance amidst long stretches of lulls, and he pulled off a Nadal-esque banana shot on his way to a break late in the second to put himself in the position to serve for the match at 7-6 (5), 5-3.
But once again, the No. 7 seed couldn’t close it, as Nadal suddenly found his backhand to hit back-to-back winners with it and get the break to stay alive in the match.
Goffin got his first match point in the next game, on the Nadal serve but he sent a ball wide to see the chance disappear. A fired up Nadal held serve for 5-5 and rallied the roaring crowd behind him for reinforcements.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) November 13, 2017
Goffin was unfazed though by his lapse and held serve to put pressure on Nadal again.
The Spaniard then saved three more match points on his own serve to force a second-set tiebreak.
Nadal hit a signature backhand passing shot to get his hands on four set points and he closed it out two points later to force a decider against his Belgian opponent.
Before the match, Nadal’s coach, Carlos Moya, told Sport360 that his charge’s fighting spirit was something that never ceases to amaze him.
“I don’t think he gave up not even one point this year,” said Moya.
And it certainly felt like that after watching Nadal battle through that second set.
But the Mallorcan ran out of steam in the third set and Goffin took advantage to leap to a 4-1 double-break lead.
Surely it was over for Nadal. But the top seed got a tiny opening in the sixth game and a clever drop shot helped him get one of the breaks back.
The gap may have been narrowed but this time Goffin did not flop when serving for the match, and he struck his 14th ace to complete a roller coaster victory.
Alexander Zverev is never one to shy away from a tough task, even if that task is facing his idol Roger Federer at a tournament the Swiss has already won six times.
With 16 years of age separating them, and a massive gulf in experience, Federer is naturally the favourite heading into their ATP Finals round-robin clash on Tuesday but a quick look at their head-to-head results could imply otherwise.
The pair have split their previous four meetings – they are 1-1 against each other in 2017 – and Zverev triumphed in their most recent showdown, in the final in Montreal last August.Both Zverev and Federer can secure qualification to the semi-finals on Tuesday, and the young German is well aware of his chances.
“I think anyone beating Federer in this group has a good chance of passing. But he’s the favourite definitely in all of the matches he plays,” said Zverev, who is making his first appearance at the ATP Finals.
“I played him a few times this year now. I played him three times, if you count the Hopman Cup match we played. Obviously, all of them were great matches. Hopefully it can be another one.”
Since Alex Corretja triumphed in Hanover in 1998, no ATP Finals debutant has won the title on their first appearance. It is a unique tournament that only features the top eight players in the world, competing in two round-robin groups.
“It is different walking on here than any other stadium,” admitted Zverev following his opening match victory over Marin Cilic on Sunday.
“The crowd, the atmosphere is amazing. The show before we walk on is something special. There were a lot of nerves involved in my first match. Obviously I’m happy that’s behind me. I’m happy that I won. I think the next matches will be not different but from a nerves perspective it will be much different for me.”
Federer began his London campaign this week with a straight-sets win over Jack Sock. The Swiss world No.2 has grown accustomed to facing players who are much younger than he is and says it doesn’t bare much weight on any of his match-ups.
Federer qualifies Tuesday if:
– He defeats Zverev in straight sets
– He defeats Zverev and Sock defeats Cilic
Zverev qualifies on Tuesday if:
– He defeats Federer and Cilic defeats Sock
“Special, it’s not tougher. I’m used to it by now, playing against the young guy,” Federer told reporters at the O2 Arena in London.
“Where I feel it is just like I can’t play 25 tournaments anymore, I mean I can, but I don’t know what the outcome will be. So I just choose to stay healthy and injury-free and this year I ended up playing much less than I thought I would because of the great start of the season, I didn’t have to push it that much to be quite honest, which is great. That’s where I feel it, the rest of it I feel good.”
Federer has played just 11 tournaments this year heading into the ATP Finals and has won seven of them. He pulled out of the Paris Masters to rest before coming to London and he says he felt his best physically on Sunday against Sock, since his Basel final against Juan Martin del Potro three weeks ago.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion also played the Laver Cup in September, a new team event he came up with, along with his agent Tony Godsick, that saw Federer share a squad with Zverev, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych, all representing Team Europe.
“I do feel like the Laver Cup has made us get to know each other a bit better,” says Federer.
“I mean, we have each other’s telephone numbers now, all of us. That wasn’t the case beforehand. We anyway knew we’d see each other all the time, so it’s nice to kind of be able to connect if you wanted to with the guys.
“I felt like at the ATP Finals ceremony and the official presentation, I did feel a sort of camaraderie, cool rivalry, but yet friendship going on, which I think is nice to see. We are all together on the boat. We’re all hanging out, all talking to each other. I’m not sure if that was always the case in previous years.
“It’s not that we didn’t get along, but we didn’t know each other that well, to be quite frank. I see good things being carried over by the Laver Cup without forgetting at the end of the day we are rivals, as well, you know.”