PARIS, June 6 (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal probably would not have played any Grand Slam other than the French Open with the chronic foot injury that required anesthetic injections in Paris, the 14-time Roland Garros champion said on Monday.
The Spaniard’s record-extending triumph on the clay of Paris earned him the 22nd best of all time in men’s singles with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 crushing victory over Norway’s Casper Ruud and put him two titles ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
It was the “most unexpected” of his French Open titles, Nadal told Reuters on Monday after limping into the resplendent hall of a central Paris hotel.
Asked if he would have played any other Grand Slam with the injury that required him to have injections to numb his foot, Nadal said: “Probably not.”
“We’ve been through a lot of emotions. Probably the most unexpected, surprising (title) and all the things I had to do to play the event make the title one of the most special,” said the 36-year-old.
Nadal said that due to the injury, which also meant that he arrived in Paris without any title on European clay, he was not confident that he would be able to fight for the Musketeers Cup.
“Of course, when you come in with poor preparation like mine, every day is a challenge; you need to increase your level of tennis every day,” he explained.
Nadal has traditionally started his French Open campaigns with at least one clay-court title under his belt, but this year he arrived in the French capital empty-handed.
“(Winning those titles) gives you an extra security if you want to reach at least the level you need to fight for the final rounds,” said the Spaniard.
“This time, before the tournament started, I didn’t know if I would be able to fight for the second week, so I only took one (round) at a time.”
While he had no doubt that he would make it to the clay court major, whether he would be able to challenge for the title was another matter, especially with world number one Novak Djokovic waiting in the quarterfinals.
“I always had the confidence that I was going to be able to play because I was playing without feeling in my foot, with one foot numb from the anesthetic injections into the nerve,” he said.
“But the problem is not only the game, it is also the practice. I never thought not to play here, but I thought it would be very difficult to be competitive.”
While appearing below his physical best at times, Nadal managed to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime in five sets in the last 16 before defeating Djokovic in a four-set thriller.
He had already been on the court for more than three hours, sweating like never before, when Alexander Zverev suffered a freak ankle injury that ended his semi-final match with the Spaniard winning 7-6, 6-6.
While he still doesn’t know what his schedule will look like in the coming weeks, Nadal agreed to think two years from now, when Roland Garros will host the Olympics after the French Open.
Nadal has won both titles, but if he had to choose between the two tournaments in 2024, the French Open would be his preference.
“Roland Garros is part of the history of my career, it is the most important place in my career and, of course, the Olympic Games are the most important event in the world of sport,” he said.
“So it’s hard to choose, but possibly Roland Garros (the French Open) is a little bit more special for me.”
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Reporting by Julien Pretot; Edited by Clare Fallon
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