During a sunny spring day in Paris that seemed to be going swimmingly, an impromptu press conference cut across the sports’ world, upending the news cycle and The French Open once again.
Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal had announced his withdrawal from the tournament with a left wrist injury. Now two of the most prolific and popular players on the men’s side were out. Roger Federer withdrew a week ago with a recurring back problem. And, today, Nadal disappointed. He will be 30 next week and Federer will be 35 in August, lending speculation that the two grand champions of tennis are quickly approaching the ends of their careers.
“Every day it’s worse. I cannot play with my forehand,” Nadal said, looking crestfallen and near tears. The lame wrist was wrapped in a blue brace.
Nadal had come in to Paris with his career on the rise. He won The Monte Carlo Masters for the 9th time. He defeated the two-time defending champion, Kei Nishikori, in Barcelona, the following week, winning that for the 9th time and tying Guillermos Vilas’s record of 49 clay-court titles, the most of the Open Era. Then, in Madrid, Nadal battled through to the semifinal where he lost to that defending champion, Andy Murray.
If that wasn’t enough to signal his potential in Paris, then his first two rounds were. He looked, well, like the ‘old’ Nadal. He smothered Australian Sam Groth 6-1, 6-1, 6-1. Then, Nadal crushed Fecundo Bagnis 6-3, 6-0, 6-3. It was Nadal’s 200th Grand Slam match victory.
“Yesterday I play with [an] injection on the wrist,” Nadal said. “I could play, but yesterday night I start to feel more and more pain. This morning I could not move the wrist. I did an MRI this morning. The results are not positive. The real thing, it is not one-hundred percent.”
Doctors told him that the sheath that covers a tendon in his left wrist is aggravated.
“If I continue to play, it will be impossible to finish the tournament,” Nadal said, revealing his obvious intent to always reach for the win. “I cannot practice more today. Very bad position for me; part of my career. I try to be back for the next couple of years here.”
With his wrist immobilized for the next two weeks, his participation at Wimbledon is questionable.
“We’re going to work hard to be ready for Wimbledon,” he added, his voice trailing off. “Hope treatment works well.”
Nadal shrugged his shoulders, as if helpless. And, he is. After 15 years of lasso forehands, digging out every ball that comes within 500 feet, and prolonging rallies with a defensive style we may not see again, Nadal has beaten up his body until it looks like it does today. Nonetheless he appears unfettered, as always.
“This is a tough moment and the toughest press conference I have ever had to give, but it’s not the end,” Nadal added.
His withdrawal from his favorite and most successful tournament has to have been as hard a decision as Federer would have to make if he withdrew from Wimbledon, of which there are no indications.
Red clay is to Nadal, as grass is to Federer. These are their home courts: Stade Roland Garros for Nadal, the biggest court in the world, and Centre Court, Wimbledon, the most hallowed court in the world for the gentlemanly Federer.
“It’s not broken,” he continued, “but it will be broken in next couple days.”
Social media lit up immediately when the news broke. Some lamented their personal losses, the diehard fans. Some sympathized with the tournament. Others listed stats about Nadal, enough to fill tennis history books. However, most tweets relayed sadness. For Rafa.
So now instead of fans anticipating a possible semifinal bash between world number one Novak Djokovic and Nadal, they will have to redial their expectations. That section of the draw is up for grabs, with Belgian David Goffin (No. 12) the highest remaining seed. Also nestled in there are two players with hope written all over their faces and short resumes: Dominic Thiem of Austria and Zverev of Germany.
The 22-year-old Thiem, who is seeded No. 13, has awed fans this season with a 36-10 record. His match-up against Zverev will be their second meeting in two weeks. Thiem defeated ‘Sasha’ in the final of Nice last week, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, to win his third ATP Tour title. Thiem had beaten Federer in Rome, as well, in the round of 16. It was their first meeting and a significant win for the Austrian even if Federer’s back was in question.
There was good news today …
American and Charleston, S.C., native Shelby Rogers defeated the No. 6 seed and two-time Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova, 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-0, to advance to her first-ever fourth round at a Major. Rogers is ranked No. 108 and was the next-to-last entrant into this year’s main draw. Her projected ranking will rise to No. 78.
Andy Murray (No. 2) defeated Ivo Karlovic in straight sets, foregoing another opportunity to spend most of the afternoon on court while struggling to close-out a match in under the maximum sets allowed for Grand Slams — five. Next up for Murray … American and No. 15 seed John Isner. Like Karlovic, Isner is a giant-sized man at six-foot-nine who ‘serves from the trees.’ Perhaps the ‘easy’ 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(3) scoreline from today foreshadows another ‘easy’ day for the Scot when facing Isner.
American and 2016 Volvo Car Open Champion Sloane Stephens lost in her second-round match to Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-2, 6-1. Next up for the Bulgarian is the No. 2 seed, Agnieszka Radwanska. The Pole struggled to oust Barbora Strycova (No. 30) of the Czech Republic today in their entertaining 3-set encounter, 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-2. Although Radwanska has made headway into the second weeks of The Australian Open (semifinal 2016), and Wimbledon (runner-up 2012 and semifinalist 2015), she has never advanced beyond the fourth round in Paris. Today, she tied that record and will have her hands full with Pironkova another player that runs like the wind and can mixup her tactics.
Samantha Stosur (No. 21) defeated the 2015 Roland Garros runner-up Lucie Safarova (No. 11) today, as well, 6-3 6-7(0), 7-5. “Jeez, I can’t remember being so happy to win a third round,” Stosur said, the WTA reported. Playing in her lucky 13th French Open this year, she was expected to win the title in 2010. However Italian Francesca Schiavone upset the betting worlds’ probabilities with a thrilling victory. It has been her only Grand Slam title, as she played in Paris for the last time this year.