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Rafael Nadal’s Grand Slam run is over—but the first half of 2022 was one of the most uniquely memorable stretches of his career
An abdominal tear forced the 22-time major title holder to pull out ahead of his Wimbledon semifinal with Nick Kyrgios.
Published Jul 07, 2022
WATCH: Nadal's speaks with press after withdrawing
On Thursday morning I wrote that “if the first half of Rafael Nadal’s season was any indication, he’d be on Centre Court on Friday for his semifinal, and he’d be ready to play well.”
It turned out that Nadal’s latest injury, an abdominal tear, was too much even for him in 2022. On Thursday afternoon, he withdrew from his beyond-highly-anticipated showdown with Nick Kyrgios, because he didn’t think he would be able to safely play, and win, a semifinal and a final over the next three days.
“I made my decision because I believe that I can’t win two matches under these circumstances,” Nadal said. “I can’t serve. Is not only that I cant serve at the right speed, it’s that I can’t do the normal movement to serve.”
“I don’t want to go out there, not be competitive enough to play at the level that I need to play to achieve my goal, and with a big chance to make the things much worse, no?”
For the second straight year, a credible quest for the first men’s Grand Slam in half a century has ended. In 2021, Novak Djokovic made it much farther, of course, winning Wimbledon and reaching the US Open final. But Nadal’s first half of 2022 has been one of the uniquely memorable stretches of play from anyone, considering that he did it while turning 36.
When Nadal came to Australia in January, he hadn’t played in six months, and, after 12 years of frustrating close calls and near misses Down Under, he said he wondered if this would be his last trip there. Instead, he ended up ending those frustrations and exorcising his greatest demons—the two finals in Melbourne he lost after being up a break up in the fifth set, to Novak Djokovic in 2012 and Roger Federer in 2017. This time, incredibly, against Daniil Medvedev, he squandered a break in the fifth for a third time, but found a way to win. Nadal had won the tournament in 2009, and was finally rewarded for his persistence with a second title thirteen years later.
Nadal then won the title in Acapulco and made a death-defying run to the Indian Wells final, with close victories over Sebastian Korda, Reilly Opelka, Nick Kyrgios, and Carlos Alcaraz, before losing the final, with what turned out to be a fractured rib, to Taylor Fritz.
Two months later, when Nadal came to Roland Garros, he was again contemplating the end of his career. He had recently recovered from his rib injury, only to feel the pain in his foot return in Rome. He said he was weary of fighting it, but he took numbing injections before each match, and made another high-wire title run, beating Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 in the fifth set, and Djokovic in four sets along the way.
I don’t want to go out there, not be competitive enough to play at the level that I need to play to achieve my goal. —Rafael Nadal
Wimbledon, it turned out, was an injury too far. But his quarterfinal win over Fritz was a fitting way for his Slam quest to end. He avenged the only significant loss of his season so far, and he did it by again finding a way to overcome the pain he was feeling, and giving another Slam audience a five-set thrill ride. Again, Nadal found a solution; what he lacked with his serve he made up for with his forehand. Again, he was nearly perfect in the match’s most important moment, the final-set tiebreaker.
“I didn’t want to pull out, to go out of the court in the middle of a quarterfinals match,” Nadal said. “Even if, as I say yesterday, the chance of retirement stays in my mind for a long time after the first five, six games, I find a way to finish the match. Something that I am proud of.”
Nadal says he intends “to make the calendar that I want to do,” and play through the rest of the summer; that probably means Canada, the US Open, and Laver Cup.
He won’t win the Grand Slam, but he claims he never thought about that, anyway.
“I thought about my daily happiness and my daily work,” he says.
It was a pleasure, as always, to watch him go about it.