What’s more, while Federer and Djokovic have always seen themselves as vital centers, athletes whose top rankings conferred a kind of authority, Nadal was always content simply being an athlete. He was plenty respected among his peers. But he would sooner double-fault on match point than wade into tennis’s political snarl. Now, almost 36, he’s emerged not just as the ATP’s all-time majors leader, but also its leaders’ leader, its outspoken moral force. Just when tennis needs him most.
Rafael Nadal has delighted Parisian crowds on the court at Roland Garros for 15,547 minutes (259 hours), which is more than the three leading Americans in Andre Agassi (5433), John Isner (5116), and Jim Courier (4192) combined. The only other two players to be on the court more than 10,000 minutes (167 hours) at Roland Garros since 1991 are Novak Djokovic (14,302 minutes/238 hours) and Roger Federer (12,203 minutes/203 hours).
“I thought I was in trouble going out there and then, after that first point, I don’t know how I won it, but I was thinking ‘Shit. That’s what I’ve got to do to win a point?’,” he said.
“I remember looking up at my camp and saying I’ve hit one of the biggest forehands I’ve hit [’yet] it came back. I hit a drive volley. It came back even harder and I wasn’t even close to the ball,” Thompson said. “I just looked up and thought, ‘I did everything I could and still I wasn’t even close to winning that point’. Sometimes you think, ‘What can I do?’ And I’m not the only one.”
Simply trying to win a point against Nadal is draining when he is in the mood he was in on Monday. The dimensions of centre court at Roland Garros add a dimension to the difficulty. Every tennis court is 23.77m long and 10.97m wide. But some appear far bigger than others. Nadal’s kingdom in Paris is one given the greater distance between the lines and sponsorship hoardings, which allows him to stand further back than he would on more regular tour courts. This gives more time to neutralise a rival’s serve, as Thompson ruefully noted, and makes him even more formidable an opponent.
- Rafael Nadal Is the French Open’s Man of Mystery | The New York Times
For the first 10 weeks of the year, no one could beat Nadal. He won three titles and 21 consecutive matches (including a walkover) before the young American Taylor Fritz beat him at Indian Wells. But the wild swings of injury-induced inactivity and success have made Nadal as mysterious a presence in the field as he has ever been, and in his mind, hardly the favorite.
“For sure not, because the results say that I am not,” he said, before delivering a mysterious qualifier. “But you never know what can happen.”
He would not be here, he said, if he did not think he had a chance to win.
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