Four minutes have not elapsed when Rafael Nadal notices a strong cramp in his right leg while leaving with journalists about his defeat in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, against Stefanos Tsitsipas 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 and 7- 5. It has been four hours and five minutes of an exchange to the braves, against a rival who is 12 years younger (22-34) and who could barely scratch him six games in the semifinals of the Australian great two ago. Suddenly, his muscle seizes up and the 20 grand champion decides to retire for a few minutes to recover and continue commenting later on this painful goodbye. Everything had gone smoothly until three or four unfortunate maneuvers rehabilitated the rival. The rest, the comeback, has been up to the Greek.
“They have asked me if I was well prepared, and it has been shown that I was not. That’s what happened… ”, he answers humorously when he returns to his chair. “Obviously, I have lacked preparation. It was a jerk. After the memes that happened with the New York [en 2011, cuando los calambres hicieron que cerrara una comparecencia tumbado tras una mesa]I’ve decided to hit the ground running instead of hitting the ground. It hurt me a lot more, but at least I think I’ve avoided something… ”, he continues in a good tone before returning to his hotel and saying goodbye to a dream, that of achieving his 21st major and thus becoming the most successful male tennis player of all the times, distancing himself from Roger Federer.
On center court, he and Tsitsipas have starred in an authentic thriller in which the script has played the distraction. Nadal has started as a shot, taking the first two sets and proposing his best version in this strange tournament that was born with forced marches and has developed in the same way. However, then he twists, misses several balls that he does not usually miss in the third heat tiebreaker – a pair of smashes, a forehand and a backhand shaped cane– and, when he had a foot and a half in the semifinal, the Greek reacts in a big way.
”I have tried, but I have made some mistakes in the tie break that in the end have been decisive. The first two sets I played well, yes, but it is also true that he played much worse those first two sets than after. You don’t have to fool yourself. He then played very well; In the third he made a leap and in the fourth and fifth he served very well, and made few mistakes. His adrenaline has risen. In the last set I have not played badly, I have only played a bad game with the equal five. That’s the truth. If I win the tie break we would already be in the hotel, sleeping. I’ve been wrong about a few tactical things ”, Nadal analyzes in a first reading that precedes a second, related to the scene that journalists have just seen.
“Physically maybe I was missing a bit, that extra spark. No need to explain. Things have not turned out as we expected, but at least I am leaving much healthier than I was a week and a half ago ”, he continues without wanting to mention the back problems that he began to suffer three weeks ago, a few days after landing and that finally managed to solve thanks to an infiltration in the lumbar area. Indeed, Nadal has lacked punch in a pulse that lasted when he seemed determined and in which Tsitsipas, fresher as he did not have to jump onto the track in the previous round due to the injury of Matteo Berrettini, has faced an agonizing final stage with more clarity.
Nadal, then, leaves Melbourne without the intended loot. After two very light first commitments, an affordable third and a hopeful intervention against Fognini, the Mallorcan stumbled upon a major rival who at 22 may not be too far from a significant jump. Tsitsipas continues to complete its evolution. In 2019 he already reached the penultimate round in Melbourne and last year that of Roland Garros; Two years ago he conquered the London Masters and is one of those few who have managed to knock down Nadal (twice, in eight crosses), Federer (two in four) and Djokovic (another two, in six).
“I have been able to stay calm. After the third set, he was flying like a bird. Everything worked out for me, ”explains the Greek, cited for a place in the final with Daniil Medvedev (7-5, 6-3 and 6-2 to Andrey Rublev). The thrown Russian will arrive, having chained 19 victories and three trophies since he made his way in Paris-Bercy, in November. Meanwhile, Nadal says goodbye in the quarterfinals, the same season as last year.
“After everything that has happened, the preparation has not been perfect, so I don’t think I have missed a great opportunity; I just consider that I have lost an opportunity to be in the fight. There was work to be done, I’m not happy. What can we do? Play better next time ”, closes the one from Manacor, condemned for an inopportune blowout.