Majestic Nadal rediscovering the height of his powers

Groundswell of opinion maintains French Open champion can win Wimbledon again

Rafael Nadal made an observation in Paris about his philosophy on life that sounded innocuous enough to dip below the radar of those who were correctly more concerned with the history he had just created, but it describes perfectly why he is playing some of the best tennis of his career.

His words reveal, too, that the 31-year-old Spaniard, who has suffered more injuries than is good for his long-term health, is not done just yet.

"Very organised people, very proactive people, know exactly what they're going to do next," Nadal said after looking about as organised as is possible on a tennis court in demolishing Stan Wawrinka in three sets to win his 10th French Open.

“I do things as they come. Right now, I don’t really know. I’m just going to keep on playing as long as it makes me happy. If one day I get up in the morning and I’m no longer motivated to go train, well, I guess that day I will put an end to my career. You know what? I’m not worried. I’m a happy person.”


Like his oldest rival, Roger Federer, he is playing with the sort of freedom known only to the very young and those who have seen it all.

It is a joy that might carry Nadal to his first Wimbledon final in seven years. He might even win for the third time there. Or, as he admits, he could just as easily fall early if his unreliable knees do not adapt quickly to the peculiar demands of grass, as they did when he lost to world No100 Lukas Rosol in the second round in 2012.

Nadal, more than most players, has endured extended periods of struggle, when his love for the game has been tested. He almost expects them to return.

In 2005, his emotions were dragged in all directions. He met his long-time girlfriend, Maria Francisca Perello, and won the first of the 10 French championships that set him on his journey to La Decima on Sunday, as well as an unprecedented decade of winning at least one slam every year.

However, 2005 was also the year that structural weaknesses surfaced in his feet and knees, and they have plagued him ever since. He has been struck down in 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2014.

In 2013, he came back from nearly eight months out to heal ruptured patella tendons, and won two slams among 10 titles and posted 75 match victories. It was an astonishing achievement.

Wrist injury

Bjorn Borg, no slouch on the dirt, was moved to call him, “the greatest clay-court player to ever play”.

Carlos Moya, who has since joined him as eventual coaching successor to uncle Toni, described him as "a warrior". Jimmy Connors remarked at the time: "His passion and the way he grinds is really something special."

Because he can play no other way, we tend to take this commitment for granted, without wondering about the price he pays. Last year, he had to quit the French Open after two quick wins because of a wrist injury. Only this season has he begun to resemble the old Nadal.

If Nadal looks commanding and fierce on court – so deep in “the zone” he rarely reacts to extraneous activity – he sometimes appears uncertain of himself.

Eight times in one answer on Sunday evening, he used the word “doubts”. For a long time, he had pronounced it “doobts”. He knows how to say it now, and he has a proper grasp of its essence. “I have been very honest with you all the time,” he said. “I have doubts every day. If you have no doubts probably is because you are too arrogant. I don’t consider myself arrogant.”

What might surprise Nadal, however, is that there is a groundswell of worthwhile opinion saying he can win Wimbledon again. It would be on a par with Federer’s win in Melbourne this year, when he beat Nadal in the final.

Even so, nobody – not even uncle Toni, or his understudy Moya – would have previously suggested Nadal could conquer the All England Club’s grass again. He said on Sunday: “I love grass, everybody knows, and it’s a surface that I really enjoyed a lot playing there.” However, he added later: “Grass is not my speciality, but I’m very motivated.”

He none the less reminded everyone when beating Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 that clay fits the script for a natural clay-courter who has rediscovered his killing top-spun forehand and now owns a backhand that is nearly as lethal. If he stays fit and healthy, he could win another two or three titles in Paris, putting him beyond reach in the record books.

That might also haul him alongside Federer on 18 majors – although there is no sign the Swiss has finished collecting big silverware. If Nadal rules clay again, Federer likewise is ready to retake his Wimbledon crown. What a story it would be if the draw kept them apart until the last Sunday.

It is nine years since Nadal won possibly the best final in the history of grand slam tennis, when, over five sets of almost unbearable intensity, he deconstructed Federer’s elegance with the sheer power of his will, it seemed.

Before they arrived at that 2008 Wimbledon, they played in the final at Roland Garros. Nadal won 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of the Swiss’s career. Now Wawrinka has felt the French heat of Nadal ahead of Wimbledon. It would be foolish to predict the Spanish master could not do that double again.

Guardian Service