Rafael Nadal has just closed the duel with the giant John Isner (2.08), but the victory (6-3 and 6-1, in 1h 16) is not enough for him. In the direction of the net for the handshake with his rival, the Balearic looks at his bench and the instruction to Francis Roig, the coach who accompanies him these days at the Foro Italico, is clear: “Ask for a clue. Clue…”. He does not want to lose the Spaniard for a single second, aware that his body and his game require more filming, and that the stumbling block in the next season, the Canadian Denis Shapovalov, will require climbing another step.
He closed the game with a right hand, but at drive It took her a while to wake up. For more than half an hour, the master stroke did not finish carburizing; in fact, nothing that she did not contemplate beforehand, since a month and a half in the reserve is a long time, and the automatisms take time to return. After last week’s reappearance at the Caja Mágica in Madrid –a rather tricky scenario, because the height makes it very difficult to control the ball–, the 21-time champion is looking to Rome for the necessary push to get to Roland Garros with flying colours.
“My body is like an old car, it needs time to restart,” he explained upon arrival in the Italian capital, after losing to Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals. “I’m almost 36 years old, I’m not 19 anymore, so it always takes time to recover. But I am happy to be here, a place that I love and where I have so many incredible memories”, said the man from Manacor, who has 10 titles and has 69 wins in the tournament, his second most prolific Masters 1000 after Monte Carlo (11/73 ). He has triumphed in three of the last four editions and defends the throne.
Nadal starts off on the right foot again, but the meeting with Isner (37 years old, 27th in the ATP) shows that there is still a lot of work ahead. The North American had two options to unbalance the match in his favor in the first set, but first he spit the ball into the corridor and then he was exhausted in the attempt to find a winner. The pardon costs him dearly. Immediately afterwards, the Spaniard, who did not quite release his arm well and was stuck with the first serve, thanks another gift – a very clear volley that stays in the net – and chains a partial 9-1 to access the round of 16 .
“I finished better than I started, there is no doubt. The beginning was not good for me. He had options to the rest, they were not very difficult balls and he failed, but the thing was in his hands. Then I got lucky and he was able to do the break. I did another one at the beginning of the second and everything changed”, rebuilds the number four in the world, who has made only nine errors and this week has rounded off an ode to regularity: there are already 800 installed among the top five on the circuit, a stratum that he reached by first time 17 years ago.
“I’m not in the form I was at the beginning of the year because I’ve been six weeks without touching a racket, I remembered the day before. “It hasn’t been easy, but I’m trying to give myself the opportunity to play well in Rome and of course to be ready for Roland Garros. Now, I don’t play for anything other than my happiness; a my age, I have made what is probably the best start to the season of my career, so it would not be fair to complain, “incided Nadal, quoted with Shapovalov this Thursday and that in a hypothetical semifinals he could run into the Serbian Novak Djokovic.
Last year, the Canadian (23 years old, 16th and left-handed) forced him to come back in Rome, and even had two opportunities to close the match. Nadal escaped, who also had to squeeze himself to surrender this season in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open; on that occasion, Shapovalov managed to lead the pulse to the fifth set despite having started with two sets against, but the Spaniard reacted. The one from Manacor survived and that victory was a turning point, towards the already known destiny.