Rafael Nadal insists he has no regrets over any decisions he made in 2017 regarding his calendar, despite the latest knee injury that forced him to withdraw from the ATP Finals on Monday.
The 31-year-old Spaniard has had a tremendous season, where he returned to No. 1 in the world for the first time in three years and won two Grand Slam titles, including a record 10th Roland Garros.
Nadal’s knee had been bothering for the last few weeks, and he withdrew ahead of his Paris Masters quarter-finals earlier this month, after he secured the year-end No. 1 ranking with his opening round victory in the French capital.
Members of his team were against Nadal competing at the ATP Finals in London – an event he missed multiple times in the past due to injury – but the top seed insisted he would at least try to compete at the season finale.
He was clearly in pain throughout his opener against Goffin and many questioned whether he put himself through that out of obligation to the tournament.
“Nobody put a gun to my head to come and play. I do what I personally feel inside and not because someone forced me to do this,” Nadal said after the match.
“A week ago, it was on the table to put an end to the season, and part of my team wanted that. It was my decision to be here.
“Sometimes things go well and sometimes they don’t. You have to accept both with a good attitude.”
Nadal contested 18 tournaments this season (including the ATP Finals), and ends the year with 67 wins from 78 matches. He also played the Laver Cup in September and the Abu Dhabi exhibition end of December 2016, but neither are official tour events.
Roger Federer in comparison has played just 54 matches (as of the morning of Tuesday November 14) across 12 tournaments (plus the non-official Hopman Cup in Perth in January, and Laver Cup).
The Swiss world No. 2 has scaled back on his events schedule this year to make sure he remains healthy as he continues to dominate the sport at 36 years of age.
Nadal refuses to make any comparisons with other players and is sticking by his own philosophy when choosing the events he wishes to compete in.
But as he ends another year with an injury, is he tempted to rethink his calendar to make sure he’s fit at the closing of the season?
“At the end of the day, everyone does their own calendar and all calendars can be valid or not depending on how you’re playing tennis,” said Nadal.
“The calendar is shaped by your tennis and your results. I don’t regret a single decision I have made all year.
“I had adequate rest. I played Brisbane, the only 250 I’ve played, I played Acapulco, I played Barcelona and I played Beijing. Those are the four tournaments I played outside the mandatory ones and I was competitive in all of them. I’m 31 not 36,” he added, referring to Federer.
“My career is mine, and his is his. My body, my mind and my tennis decides my calendar.”
Nadal will now take a well-deserved rest and is scheduled to return to action at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi from December 28-30, 2017.
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.