Rio 2016 Olympics, Tennis: The champion Rafael Nadal fights back
After a couple of injury-ravaged years, Nadal is making his mark at Rio 2016.
An astonishing tally of 9 French Open titles which form a lion’s share of 14 Grand Slam titles (which is about the same number of titles won by the great Pete Sampras) places Rafael Nadal as one of the all-time greats of the game. Yes, an injury-ravaged body meant that he was not able to compete at the highest level for a good part of the last 2 years. But the fighter that he is, the Mallorcan is battling it out to return to the pinnacle of the game and has set about making a statement at the Rio Olympics 2016.
Nadal has already won the gold in men’s doubles event with partner Marc Lopez. Though he withdrew from mixed doubles, he is going strong in the men’s singles and has reached the semifinals where he will take on Argentina’s Del Potro.
Nadal’s Rio campaign so far
After withdrawing midway through this year’s French Open with a persistent wrist injury that also kept him out of Wimbledon, Nadal hardly had any time to practice and get himself fully fit ahead of the Rio Olympics. The Spaniard already has an Olympic gold to his credit (from Beijing 2008) but it did not stop him from taking part in Rio instead of concentrating on the upcoming US Open.
The injury to his racquet-wielding arm had his fans wondering whether the fizzing forehands will have the characteristic overspin which is crucial to Nadal's gameplay. But he started off on a confident note, getting the better of Argentina's Federico Delbonis in straight sets (6-2, 6-1). He would admit after the game that his wrist was not perfect yet but it did not stop him blazing through the first 2 rounds of men’s doubles. He then took down Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-3, 6-3 in the singles.
Next up was a sterner test for the Spaniard – Gilles Simon of France. In a match that lasted more than 2 hours, Nadal showcased some of his famous tenacity and prevailed 7-6, 6-3. He was back at the court within 2 hours to sail into the final of the men’s doubles along with Lopez.
In the quarter-final against Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci, Rafa had to battle an inspired home-favourite and a hostile environment to fight back from being a set down (2-6, 6-4, 6-2) and seal his spot in the men’s semifinal where he will take on another star making his comeback from injury in Juan Martin Del Potro.
He was not done though – he played the men’s doubles final shortly after the match and won the gold medal after defeating the Romanian pair of Mergea & Tecau in 3 sets.
The famous fighting spirit on display
One of the traits of Nadal that opponents find very frustrating is his willingness to fight for every point. He rarely gives away cheap points and it was there for display at Rio as Simon, exasperated after his Round of 16 clash against Nadal, said – “In the end, he's still the same. He never had three, four bad points in a row.”
More importantly, the confidence seems to be back in Nadal.
Agreed. His competition is much weaker after the exits of Novak Djokovic, and the injury-enforced withdrawals of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka prior to the tournament. But he is playing confident tennis right in his first tournament since the French Open. He acknowledged the tough task he faces after the victory against Simon – “Two weeks ago, I really didn't know if I will have the chance to be here and compete in this Olympic Games, because the practice (time) was almost zero for two months.”
After reaching the singles semifinals and winning the gold in doubles, Nadal remarked with typical humility– “I don't even know how things are going so well. because I didn't do any preparation for the tournament.”
He’ll now be up against Juan Martin del Potro in what promises to be a mammoth semi-final.
Nadal has a track record of coming back strongly from injuries though his status as a threat to the likes of Djokovic, Murray etc has taken a hit in recent times. Case in point – his return from a troubling knee injury to win 5 straight French Opens (from 2010 to 2014). As is often said, there is always one last fight left in a champion. For Rafa, the Olympics might not be the last fight but it definitely is a battle he intends to win.