PARIS — Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have won and done a lot in nearly 20 years of hoarding the loot in men’s tennis.
But there’s one gap in each member of the Big Three’s story line. None has managed to finish the Grand Slam by winning all 4 major tournaments in the identical calendar 12 months.
Djokovic got close, agonizingly close, falling only one match short last 12 months by losing in the ultimate of the U.S. Open to Daniil Medvedev. (He also fell short within the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics, ruling out a Golden Slam.)
Now at 36, a complicated age in tennis, Nadal has created his best opportunity by winning the primary two legs of the Grand Slam: He delivered a big-surprise victory on the Australian Open in January and claimed his 14th profession victory on the French Open on Sunday, a win that ought to only have come as a surprise because he was twiddling with a numb left foot.
Nadal remains to be just halfway to the Grand Slam, but he has never been this near a feat that was last achieved in the lads’s game in 1969 by the Australian Rod Laver.
In 2009, the one other time Nadal won the Australian Open, he was beaten for the primary time at Roland Garros, losing within the fourth round to Robin Soderling of Sweden.
But this 12 months Nadal can head to Wimbledon, which begins June 27, with the Grand Slam still in play. The query is, will he head to Wimbledon in any respect?
He revealed on Sunday, after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 thrashing of the 23-year-old Norwegian Casper Ruud within the French Open final, that he had received painkilling injections to numb his left foot before each of his matches on the red clay in Paris this 12 months. He said he wouldn’t do the identical again at any tournament, not even Wimbledon, due to the risks. As a substitute, he plans to undergo a procedure this week called radio frequency ablation to try to supply longer-term pain relief by deadening the problematic nerves in his foot.
“I’m going to be in Wimbledon if my body is able to be in Wimbledon,” Nadal said. “Wimbledon isn’t a tournament that I would like to miss. I feel no person desires to miss Wimbledon. I really like Wimbledon.”
Despite that sentiment, there will probably be loads of missing players at Wimbledon this 12 months. The All England Club has barred players from Russia and Belarus from participating on this 12 months’s tournament due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Those affected include Medvedev, a Russian who will reclaim the No. 1 rating in men’s singles from Djokovic next week; and the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, a semifinalist in Wimbledon’s women’s singles draw last 12 months.
The boys’s and ladies’s tours have responded to the ban by stripping Wimbledon of rating points, which left the previous No. 1 Naomi Osaka openly questioning in Paris whether she was still motivated enough to participate in Wimbledon.
Nadal, as a part of the ATP player council, was deeply involved in the inner debates on stripping points, but he has an elemental connection to Wimbledon beyond whatever rankings boost it could provide.
“I had numerous success there,” he said. “I lived amazing emotions there.”
He won some of the acclaimed matches in tennis history in 2008 when he beat Federer in a Wimbledon final that stretched to 9-7 within the fifth set within the twilight. Nadal won Wimbledon again in 2010, beating Tomas Berdych for the title. But since losing the 2011 final to Djokovic, Nadal has not advanced past the semifinals and has twice missed the tournament due to injury: in 2016 due to his left wrist and last 12 months due to the chronic foot condition often known as Müller-Weiss syndrome that’s linked to a deformity within the navicular bone and first threatened his profession in his late teens.
He managed the issue for years with orthotic inserts and custom-designed shoes and anti inflammatory medication, however the condition is clearly threatening his profession again even when the short-term concern is Wimbledon.
Larry Chou, an American physician in Havertown, Pa., specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, said that radio frequency ablation was “relatively low risk” but has widely various rates of success depending on the joint involved. He said it was rare to make use of on the foot.
“If it really works, it’s for symptomatic relief, but it surely’s not fixing the underlying issue,” Chou said. “The mechanical stress going through his foot remains to be going to be there.”
Chou has performed radio frequency ablations on backs and knees but not on feet. He said if the procedure worked, which was no guarantee, the pain relief would typically not be immediate.
“It often takes a number of weeks to kick in, mostly since the nerve gets irritated if you find yourself killing it and you may develop slightly neuroma,” Chou said, using one other term for a pinched nerve, “but that’s often not as bad as the unique pain. The issue for Nadal is that Wimbledon begins in three weeks, and three weeks is a comparatively short time-frame. But it surely’s one among those things where he’s beaten the chances before in his profession and also you hope that he beats the chances again.”
Chou said it was little doubt remarkable that Nadal could win the French Open without having feeling in one among his feet.
“But nonetheless,” Chou said, “he’s been playing tennis at this level for therefore long. And these guys like Nadal, their mechanics and the way they move, they’ve such great muscle memory. They only do it.”
Nadal definitely did it well: defeating 4 top-10 seeds at Roland Garros this 12 months and running his record in French Open finals to 14-0 and his overall French Open record to an astounding 112-3.
But Wimbledon has belonged more to his archrivals. Federer has won it eight times, a men’s record. Djokovic has won it six times, including the last thrice it has been contested, in 2018, 2019 and 2021.
Even when Nadal by some means recovers in time to compete, the Grand Slam will remain a frightening prospect with Djokovic in the sector and back on the Centre Court grass.
But doubting Nadal’s resilience, tenacity and talent has been a foul play for quite a while, as he proved again in Paris.
“Let’s see what happens,” he said on Sunday night. “I’m a positive guy.”