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BarcelonaRafa Nadal first played at Roland Garros on May 23, 2005. He was 18 years old. The debut reached track number 1. She never set foot on it again, as the organizers quickly passed her on the central track. In fact, runway 1 was demolished a few years ago. Most players forge on endless days on secondary courts, with small stands and clueless spectators who don’t know much about which players are watching. With Christmas, this has never been the case. When he made his debut in 2005 on the clay of Paris he was already a star. He was already number 5 in the world. “He had already won tournaments, he was already a name that everyone was talking about. It was obvious that he was special,” recalls German Lars Burgsmuller, his first rival. Burgsmuller retired years ago with only one title on the list (the Copenhagen Open in 2002) and is now a doctor in a hospital and living away from tennis. Nadal, on the other hand, is still playing and has just won for the 14th time in Paris. And he wants to keep winning titles, even though he doesn’t know if his body will hold up.

On May 5, 2005, Burgsmuller was unable to force a single ball break before Christmas. But the Mallorcan ended up dissatisfied with his game. “Playing like that I’m not a favorite to win anything,” he lamented. Two weeks later, at the age of 19 (he was born on June 3), he won his first Roland Garros against the Argentine Mariano Puerta. Every year since 2005, Nadal celebrates his birthday in Paris. As if it were already written in his birth certificate that he would have to have a big party during the dates of Roland Garros. In fact, the French fans were already waiting for Christmas when he was a minor, in 2003 and 2004, but the man from Manacor missed these appointments due to injury.

It was probably the most anticipated debut since the debut of Swedish Björn Borg in 1973, as Nadal had just won the 13-year-old Les Petits As youth tournament in 2000, and in 2005 he had risen from 51st place in the world rankings. until the fifth after winning the Monte Carlo, Roma and Godó tournaments on clay, beating rivals such as Gaston Gaudio, champion at Roland Garros in 2004, and Juan Carlos Ferrero, champion in 2003. “He was especially good at defending. , it reached all the balls “, Burgsmuller remembers. That Rafa Nadal was a cheeky young woman who dressed like a pirate, with long pants and hair, and celebrated the points as if they were goals from Real Madrid, the team of his dreams, and shouted “We will!” after each point. Some French fans did not like their unelegant style and their tics before serving, always running out of time. But Nadal was proving to everyone that he was the best signing of memorable performances, especially in the finals against Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. “He had a very aggressive game. I saw how he improved, how he learned. Then he went with his team, where I remember Carles Moyà. You had the feeling that he was already a star and he was a young man,” recalls Burgsmuller, who taught. to his children the video of the 2005 Christmas match.

Only three defeats

No player has dominated both a Grand Slam and Christmas. No one, in fact, has ever won the same big men’s tennis tournament 10 times until he arrived. If Djokovic leads especially in Australia and Federer has made Wimbledon his tournament, the name of Christmas will always be remembered for his titles at Roland Garros, where he has won the 14 finals he has played. All. The first to fall was Mariano Puerta. Then Roger Federer suffered in four finals, Novak Djokovic in three, the Austrian Dominic Thiem twice and the Swede Robin Söderling, the Valencian David Ferrer, the Swiss Stan Wawrinka and finally, the Norwegian Casper Ruud. “I’m the last on a long list,” the 23-year-old Norwegian joked on Sunday. Of these players, one has already retired, Söderling, affected by an infectious mononucleosis. He is one of two players who defeated Nadal in Paris in a match in the round of 16 in 2009. The other is Djokovic, who has done so twice, one in the quarterfinals of 2017 and the other in the semifinals of 2021.

In Paris, Nadal has won 112 of the 115 matches he has played. A domain never seen before, in tennis. But after so many years, the Manacor player is still amazing. This, in fact, seemed destined to be the great season of Novak Djokovic, the best player of recent years, but the Serb lost Australia after being deported for lying about the covid-19 vaccine and Nadal won the 21st Grand Slam of his career. The 22nd has arrived in Paris. And all with the chronic injury that drags on his left foot, where he suffers from Müller-Weiss disease, a kind of chronic osteoarthritis that causes a lot of pain. How did you manage to keep winning? His doctor, Ángel Ruiz Cotorro, and physiotherapist Rafa Maymó have worked hard on a training plan to try to protect this foot without affecting the performance of a player who, above all, as Cotorro usually explains, ” it has a great ability to withstand pain. ” Nadal has modified his insoles, shoes and training to adapt to an illness that will always be there.

“I can’t keep playing with my foot asleep”

Nadal has explained that one of the keys, of course, is his boss. Aware of the problem, he is motivated to think that he has a challenge to overcome. “But one day my head will tell me enough. I have to take a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs to be able to train, I play infiltrated, but I can’t keep playing with my foot asleep, But Nadal has been struggling to make ends meet. “A treatment is an intervention on my nerves to get rid of pain. These are radiofrequency injections that can help me get better, ”he explains, adding,“ If we manage to get our nerves touched, the permanent pain could go away as well. Even if it leaves my foot with little sensitivity, it would be a big step. “

Cotorro himself will be in charge of leading this process in the coming days, with the aim of seeing if he arrives at Wimbledon in four weeks. Christmas, however, knows that it may not turn out well. In fact, the alternative would be an operation to try to achieve the same effect, but in this case it should be a few months without competing. Wimbledon and maybe the US Open would be lost. “I have to study everything, to understand it and to assess whether it is worth stopping for many months, maybe half a year, without being sure that the pain will go away,” Nadal reasoned after winning in Paris. Ambitious as always, the man from Manacor wants to be at Wimbledon, where he has not played since 2019 and where he has won two titles, in 2008 and 2010. “I want to be there. But now I can’t say if I will get there. I can play like I did at Roland Garros, with injections that leave my foot anesthetized. I can’t continue with this philosophy of life “, concludes the Mallorcan player.

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