Rafael Nadal and his team went to a clinic in Melbourne early last Friday so that the champion of 20 greats, with a sore back for three weeks, underwent a small intervention that meant spending the last cartridge. If it did not work, the fate would probably have been very different and the Balearic Islands, surely, would not be where they are today, flying over the quarterfinals of the Australian Open after beating Italian Fabio Fognini on Monday 6-3, 6-4 and 6-2, in 2h 16m . Fortunately, the injection of anesthetics and anti-inflammatories between the vertebrae in his lower back not only worked for him, it was a definitive release. Nadal is, again, a recognizable Nadal. Without shackles.
Column | 'Djokovic hides less than he should', by TONI NADAL Heading for the quarterfinals, Nadal is already more than Nadal
Suddenly, what was gray one day (very dark) became a much kinder landscape. If before the third round against the British Cameron Norrie all were uncertainties and doubts, that day an evolution was already perceived, consolidated in the duel against Fognini. The one from San Remo was a major test – he is the only rival that has managed to lift him two sets against in a big one, in his entire career – and the result was extremely satisfactory. Suddenly, what was darkness is now a scenario that projects much more optimism, although the horizon holds a hard cross with the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will arrive fresh since Matteo Berrettini did not overcome his abdominal discomfort and did not appear on the track. In the videoconference with journalists, Nadal offered some dose of optimism: “Obviously, the outlook for the tournament is different now than it was five or six days ago. The situation has improved, without a doubt. Today [yesterday] has been an important victory for me, against a rival who has always caused me problems; and in three sets. The first one ”, added the Mallorcan,“ has been very good and then I got a little tired because in the end, when you go 19 days without training at the right intensity, the preparation suffers. Today I have found myself physically faster and more resistant, so I have taken a step forward in every way. ”
At 34, Nadal dominates the timing and content of the speech. "He has a very well structured mind to communicate," says a person who has known him since he set foot on the professional circuit. The Spanish tennis player does not usually slip phrases at random, hence that "different perspective" should not fall on deaf ears. Now yes, the Mallorcan is capable of assaulting the Australian throne. “The back has improved, without a doubt, and now there is an option to fight for what I came here for. The preparation has not been ideal, so it may be with a deficit compared to others; Now, if you ask me if five days ago I would have signed you to be as I am now, I would have done it with my eyes closed ”, he commented after a comforting performance that opened the way to the light.
mattress effect In his analysis, Nadal it affected the physical progression and also the tennis one. After almost three weeks with the parking brake on, he has finally been able to work for three consecutive days with the intensity he needs to reactivate the automatisms and regain the spark. He mentioned the reverse, again capital and every day more decisive in his game; also mobility, martyrdom for Fognini because it did not leave practically a crack; and also the second services, another fundamental aspect in his scheme because they act as a safety mattress if the inspiration is not what he wanted with the first services.
Back problems prevented him from executing the lever correctly and forced him to a minimum mechanics. However, Friday's puncture lessened the pain and, consequently, he has been able to recover the most offensive maneuver of the serve. In this way, Nadal's ball travels at another speed. In his debut against Laslo Djere , the second serve time averaged 151 km / h; against Michael Mmoh on the second stop , 147 km / h; he was noticeably superior to Norrie; and this Monday the speedometer marked 160 km / h. That is to say, a very significant growth from the first to the last day, in technical terms.
"If I want to have options against someone like Tsitsipas, I must play at a very high level," he warned before the crossing (Nadal beat him six of the seven preceding ) to advance to the semifinals. The Greek, in any case, will arrive with a warning on the table: Nadal has spread his wings and is three steps away from his 21st major.