Now yes: Christmas has already run out of electricity

In the carousel of tributes on which Rafael Nadal (37) has embarked, it has now been Rome's turn.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 May 2024 Saturday 23:35
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Now yes: Christmas has already run out of electricity

In the carousel of tributes on which Rafael Nadal (37) has embarked, it has now been Rome's turn.

Ten times he had prevailed at the Foro Italico, the last in 2021 against Novak Djokovic; it won't happen anymore. He is interrupted by Hubert Hurkacz (6-1 and 6-3), a Polish tennis player who plays the counterstroke with the soul of an undertaker: in 2021, at Wimbledon, Hurkacz had retired Roger Federer in very bad ways, dispatching him with a set final blank.

Whatever the mythomaniacs think, Hurkacz (27) goes his way: he does not hesitate against the Swiss, nor against the Manacorí.

In the mental sphere, Nadal has gone further these weeks. Off the scene in Monte Carlo, then still green in his tennis. More doubtful in Barcelona. More intermittent in Madrid. Now, in Rome, definitely engaged.

(Even with the protected ranking, the table offers him uncomfortable surprises: the first rounds, he has to face De Miñaur, Lehecka or Hurkacz, a bad thing if one is looking for shooting).

"I can no longer keep anything to myself, it's time to push and get rid of the fear of breaking myself", he had said a few days ago, on the eve of starting at the Foro Italico, before facing Zizou Bergs.

The speech proposed a turning point, but the result has been bittersweet.

Very weakened in the service, also without an overflowing forehand, Nadal should squeeze against the Belgian (barely 108th in the world) in the first match, he had needed three sets to prevail.

And on Saturday, against Hurkacz, he already seemed capricious and mushy, almost giving up when he went to the break in the first set, after verifying that his serve never troubled the Pole (not a single ace in the first set, for the eight d ' Hurkacz, nine at the end of the match; in that first section, the manacorí had barely won 48% of the points with his first serve).

Unarmed, the king of clay never found the creases in the Pole, a consistent player, difficult to unbalance him without ever being a first sword of tennis: today Hurkacz is ninth in the world, he looks a small step away from his Everest, the number 8 I had in January.

Hurkacz's consistency would ruin Nadal, as excited as he is autumnal, today a sailor who sails against the current: no matter how much he advances in performance and mental determination, the manacorí is light years away from his best time, since he has lost three of his last eight matches on clay, an inconceivable fact when only his presence, his Nadalitat, bent all rivals.

Now, Nadal will have to go back to the sofa, reread the last month and a half and ask himself what he will do to find his best version, or part of it: Roland Garros is taking shape.