PARIS – His words catching in his throat, Toni Nadal called it “really a miracle” that his nephew is back in the French Open tennis final.
Seriously? Miraculous? More like expected, given that Rafael Nadal is 58-1 for his career at Roland Garros, a seven-time champion who will become the only man with eight titles at one Grand Slam tournament if he beats David Ferrer in today’s all-Spanish final.
Here is what Uncle Toni, who has coached Rafa since age 4, meant: They harbored doubts about whether a return to the top was possible after Nadal was sidelined for about seven months with a left knee injury.
After outlasting top-seeded Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 in a 41/2-hour semifinal, the third-seeded Nadal referred to his time away, saying, “When these kind of matches happen, you suffer, but I really enjoy these moments, no? I really enjoy suffering, because what’s harder is when I am in Mallorca last year and I had to watch these kind of matches on the TV.”
As Nadal began accumulating Grand Slam titles, the biggest question was how long his body would be able to withstand his always-on-the-move playing style.
Citing bad knees, he decided not to defend his Wimbledon championship in 2009, just weeks after losing to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open (that remains Nadal’s only defeat at his favorite tournament). Nadal’s left knee was what held him out of action from last June, when he lost in the second round at Wimbledon, until this February. He missed the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
Since returning to the tour, Nadal is 42-2 with six titles, reaching the finals of all nine tournaments he’s entered. He’s on a 21-match winning streak.
The fourth-seeded Ferrer was 0-5 in Grand Slam semifinals before eliminating France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 7-6 (3), 6-2.
The finalists will be playing each other for the 24th time; Nadal is 19-4 so far.