When Rafael Nadal first arrived on tour back in 2002, he was often referred to as the ‘fiery Spaniard’. A large majority of Nadal’s career has been spent head-to-head in battle against the somewhat reserved Roger Federer. Perhaps the contrast between the two is another reason for his reputation as a passionate player, a status that has lasted for more than a decade.
These days, however, the Spaniard is far from fiery. Some may say that this is because his best days are now behind him. Indeed, if one was to look at the US Open betting odds, they would see that the 35-year-old has been priced at an extraordinary 25/2 to go all the way at Flushing Meadows. As the fourth-favourite in line to take the men’s singles winner’s title, it’s clear to see that the rise of more formidable opponents has knocked the esteemed player down the rankings a tad.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) December 9, 2020
However, it’s not really fair to say Nadal’s outlook is based on his ability to win trophies. On the contrary, Nadal could still conceivably win another few Grand Slams and he will surely be the favourite, even at 36 years old, to win the Roland-Garros next year. Rather, Nadal cuts a far more laid-back figure these days because he’s at peace with his legacy in the game.
If Nadal wasn’t at some level of security and acceptance, he wouldn’t have pulled out of the Olympics or Wimbledon over the summer. Like other professional athletes on the cusp of potential victory, he would have instead tried to play through the pain he was feeling in his foot. This kind of behaviour is seen all the time in the sports industry: for example, English football player Marcus Rashford played the remainder of the 2020/2021 season with a muscle tear in his left shoulder, despite suffering with it since November 2020. In Rashford’s case, he would only go for an operation eight months later in July 2021 to fix the problem.
When you consider this and then how close Nadal is to the end of his career, it seems plausible that the Spaniard could have taken, if he really felt it was necessary, the injections that could have pacified his pain and played through the discomfort in a bid to rack up as many Grand Slams as possible. Only Nadal didn’t do this because he knows that there is life after tennis. Indeed, the 35-year-old won’t risk any long-term injuries by recklessly putting his body on the line at a stage when retirement is on the horizon.
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) October 12, 2020
The 13-time French Open champion has even said as much when asked about his record in the game: Nadal stated that a player like Novak Djokovic is a lot more obsessed with the prospect of winning Grand Slams than he is. Nadal said that “it means a lot to him all of this stuff” when asked about Djokovic’s desire to be the greatest, although it’s important to stress that there was no malice in his delivery.
It’s clear to see that Nadal is content with his contribution to the sport, and when all is said and done, he won’t be losing any sleep should he end his career with fewer Grand Slams than his rivals.