Rafael Nadal joins the elite 1,000 club and looks back to his best at the Miami Masters
Rafael Nadal would have certainly preferred a celebratory cake to mark the occasion. Instead, he was served a bagel by a merciless Philipp Kohlschreiber in the opening set of his 1,000th match.
Nadal did recover from that bad start – the 14th 0-6 set of his career – to make sure he would remember his milestone just as he remembers his first.
“I remember the first match very well because it was at home in Mallorca,” Nadal said after overcoming his German opponent at the Miami Masters 0-6, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday. “It was my first victory on the ATP and was a great feeling.”
That first win came against Ramon Delgado on April 29, 2002. Since then Nadal has missed nearly 30 months of competition due to a plethora of injuries to his knees, wrist and spine. The Spaniard has also had to battle with a rare birth defect called Kohler’s disease, a bone disorder which causes the navicular bone to temporarily lose blood supply, which forced him to contemplate giving up tennis as early as 2004.
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Given the nature of those injuries and the physicality of his game, few people thought Nadal would go on to have such a long and illustrious career.
Writing in his book, Rafa, Nadal said being diagnosed with Kohler’s disease was “like a shot to the head” and had left him in “a state of deepest gloom”, and “without appetite for life”.
Yet Nadal came back in 2005 to win the first of his nine French Open titles and four Masters 1000 crowns, finishing the season with a staggering win percentage of 89 (79-10). It was the best season by a teenager on the ATP Tour since Bjorn Borg in 1974.
Nadal’s bruising efforts, however, took their toll and he was forced to skip the 2005 World Tour Finals and the 2006 Australian Open because of pain in his foot. Andre Agassi had already warned Nadal of the consequences after losing the 2005 Montreal Masters final in three sets to the Spaniard. “He’s writing cheques that his body can’t cash,” the eight-time grand slam champion had said.
Even Nadal’s uncle and coach, Toni, feared for the longevity of his nephew’s career. “Hopefully, we can get two more years out of him,” Toni said in 2005. But Nadal is still here, bouncing back from extensive injury breaks in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2016. No wonder, he finds reason to celebrate reaching 1,000 matches.
“One thousand matches is a lot of matches,” Nadal said in Miami. “Obviously that’s good news because that says I am having a long career. During a lot of years, I heard that I’m going to have a short career, so it’s something important for me.”
Nadal is only the 11th men’s player to join the 1,000 club, headed by Jimmy Connors (1,535) and Roger Federer (1,340). Ivan Lendl, Agassi, Ilie Nastase, John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg are also on that list. Nadal, despite his injury woes, has the best winning percentage (82.2) in that club and third best of all time after Novak Djokovic (82.8) and Borg (82.7).
No mean achievement for a man with such an extensive catalogue of injuries. Nadal is showing his best form since 2014, has already reached two finals – the Australian Open and Acapulco – and all before the clay-court season, which starts next month. Should he add a 10th French Open crown to his 14 major triumphs this summer, the debate over who is the greatest between Nadal and long-time rival Federer will gain a new lease of life.
For now though, Nadal is not looking that far ahead though.
“In December, I would have paid for these results,” he said. “I think I am playing well this year, better than the last couple of years, and when that happens, I have my chances on clay.
“But Roland Garros is still five tournaments away and I know that to play well in Roland Garros, I need to play well in the earlier tournaments on clay.”
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Published: March 27, 2017 04:00 AM