Rafael Nadal's last tennis match in Madrid: defeat but a victory

Imagine doing the identical thing for about 30 years, being higher at it than anyone who ever lived, after which in the future every part is totally recent.

And that's the way it is for Rafael Nadal on this mirror spring. For years, no place felt more home than a red clay court. Sometimes he could lose games. Everyone does it. But he almost never played badly.

He could leave his entrails in an effort that will leave many of the population unable to walk on the sphere for weeks. Then he woke up within the morning and inside a couple of hours was capable of prepare to do all of it again. And then sometimes he actually did all of it again.

Those days are gone and should never return. Nearly a 12 months and a half since his serious hip injury, nearly a 12 months since major surgery to attempt to repair it, nearly two years since he was a mainstay on the professional tour, every game, day-after-day has grow to be an experiment and a mystery grow to be for Nadal.

How much can he push? How long can he go? How does his body feel when he opens his eyes for the primary time each morning, when he rolls away from bed, when he bends over to select up his 18-month-old son Rafa, when he goes onto the pitch to warm up? -Up session and strokes the ball for the primary time?

The final test got here Tuesday night against Jiri Lehecka, the talented young Czech with the lithe frame and simple strength that Nadal, ever the brutalist, never had. But nothing in regards to the match really had anything to do with the contrasts he and Nadal presented, and even the result.

This was about Nadal's latest experiment.

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A bit of greater than 24 hours before he and Lehecka took the court, Nadal had won three sets and greater than three hours against Pedro Cachin of Argentina. In each games it was The key numbers on the scoreboard counted the elapsed time. How many rolling backhands and bullwhip forehands could Nadal endure, and even wish to endure, when his lodestar, the French Open, begins in 26 days?

Nadal balances fitness and pride in his final season (Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

The first set lasted 57 minutes, with Lehecka surviving three tight service games and making the most of a series of Nadal errors to interrupt within the eleventh game before seeing out the set. Lehecka then broke Nadal's serve in the primary game of the second set. Nadal's balls began flying wide and into the web without bothering him an excessive amount of, and it was hard to not take into consideration how he had described his game plan going forward the night before, after his three-hour fistfight with Cachin.

“Try not to do crazy things, just try,” he said, and that was ultimately what Lehecka’s 7-5, 6-4 victory, which lasted just over two hours, looked like.

A 3rd set and one other hour might have been considered a crazy thing under the circumstances.

Cachin, a 29-year-old journeyman who knows his way around a clay court, had given Nadal as much as he could handle and greater than anyone expected, engaging in long battles for points and forcing him over the baseline to scramble. A couple of years ago, this is able to have been one other day of certainty for Nadal: the clay, the victory, the stay up for the following game during which he knew – to a really small margin – which version of himself would take the court.

Instead, he strolled the corridors of Caja Magica on Monday night, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head and telling anyone who would listen that he had no idea what the long run would hold.

“I never recovered that much after tough games, I think, even at 36 or 35 years old,” said Nadal, now almost 38. “Today is a completely different story. It's not just about injuries. The first is injuries. Secondly, I have never spent almost two years not participating in tennis tournaments.”

Everyone knows what Nadal is all about – checking out whether it would be price entering his name within the draw for the French Open, the tournament he has won 14 times and where his record at Roland Garros is a ridiculous 112 -3. He won't just be looking forward to an ovation and a bouquet of flowers or to marvel on the nine-foot-tall statue of him in front of Court Philippe Chatrier.

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He knows his tennis is there, but he’ll only go if he believes his body is there too. This is best-of-five set tennis on clay, and matches generally last close to a few hours, perhaps longer. His serve in the present version, which is slowed down by injuries in the center section, doesn’t allow him to attain many points quickly and simply. Almost every part he gets he has to earn hard. By the tip of the second set on Tuesday night, 40 percent of Lehecka's serves had gone unreturned, allowing him to race through serving stances already made difficult by the blaring of “Rafa, Rafa, Rafa” in his ears each time he got up Line. When asked how he handled them, the Czech world number 31 could only puff out his cheeks and say: “I don't know.”

Nadal's value was six percent.

Nadal ultimately couldn't prevail against Lehecka (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

He could have a day without work between matches on the French Open, unlike the 24-hour change from Cachin to Lehecka, but nonetheless the past few days in Madrid have marked his first experience of what appears like an eternity of grind-recover-grind. Sport requires routine.

Ten days ago in Barcelona he failed to try this, winning a match and essentially failing after losing the primary or second set. Had he aimed for more at that moment, he may need been back where he was in January, at a preparatory tournament in Brisbane before the Australian Open. There he pushed too early in his third match. He fell asleep with a tweak. That morning an MRI showed it was a tear. Three months of recovery and lots of more moments of doubt followed.

Maybe that was it? He could swing a bat, but attempting to even come near replicating the intensity of elite competition was out of the query. The same goes for an intense three-hour training session. He just wasn't strong enough.

Madrid was different. He's regained his strength, but he's not predictable: he still has no idea what’s going to occur from in the future to the following.

“It's unpredictable, that's what it is, and you have to accept the unpredictable things today,” he said earlier this week. “I have to accept that.”

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In some ways, Nadal has been preparing for this moment for greater than 20 years, ever since doctors discovered a congenital defect in his foot that almost derailed his profession before it even began. He then had to return to terms with an especially uncertain future. Everything that followed was a present of sorts.

This experience gave birth to “Zen-Rafa,” the player who years ago compared an opponent’s aces to rain, something he had no control over and easily accepted. Now he was back where all of it began, and never simply because he said that in Madrid in 2003 he first felt like he could compete at the best level.

Sure, Nadal would have loved to win again on this packed metal box in front of 12,000 individuals who love him like they love hardly the rest. He is the best sporting hero this country has ever produced, as Raul Gonzalez Blanco, the legendary Real Madrid and Spain striker, knows well. He was there watching against Cachin.

But Nadal knew he had already won by having the ability to reply to the bell against Lehecka, something he could only hope for when he closed his eyes the night before. Scoring a couple of easy points on his serve meant one other win. Those classic combos of looping, one ball then the following, the fast bends for the short hop winners, the proper slice volley as he followed his serve into the web midway through the second set – win, win, win.

The moment he sprinted from his chair to the baseline one game before the loss, with 12,000 people standing and roaring and the noise rattling across the metal constructing – that was perhaps the best victory of all. They did it again on match point after which shouted his name as he fired a final backhand home in what was likely his last game in the town.

Madrid's tribute to Nadal after his defeat (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

He described the evening as “very positive in many ways, not just sportingly but also emotionally.”

“It's been a gift to spend 21 years here,” Nadal told the group during an on-court celebration after the match. “The emotions of playing in Madrid, of playing on this pitch, will stay with me forever.”

But as much as Nadal has accepted the uncertainty of the long run and the absorption of affection, he can be planning. He's now playing himself into shape and attempting to pass tests at every match so he can dream of magic not only on the French Open but beyond.

The Olympic Games happen in Roland Garros. He would love to a minimum of play doubles there with Carlos Alcaraz, who’s well on his technique to replacing Nadal within the Spanish tennis imagination. Last week he committed to participate within the Laver Cup, the Team Europe versus Team World competition created by his friend and rival Roger Federer. That's in September.

Madrid brought 4 games in six days. Assuming his body can survive all of it, he’ll travel to the Italian Open in Rome next week for an additional series of tests. Then comes the choice in regards to the French Open.

This is imminent and still a great distance off. Nadal, who despite his size still someway manages to appear to be a traditional guy, is, because the saying goes, identical to the remaining of us, day in and day trip.

image credit : theathletic.com