He was immensely aggressive, quick at the nets, dominated the long rallies and perfectly negated the wide serves from Denis Shapovalov to taking the first set 6-1. But Rafael Nadal’s level dropped significantly in the second set which allowed the Canadian to race away to a 3-0 lead and just when commentators compared the situation to some of Nadal’s earlier games, the Spaniard was seen limping between points, grimacing in pain. And it clearly reflected on the score line as number of unforced errors and double faults increased before Shapovalov bounced back to beat Nadal 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the round-of-16 clash at the Italian Open on Thursday.
It was one of Nadal’s earliest exit from the tournament and first since 2017, also inflicted by the Canadian in what was their first-ever ATP meeting, at a Masters 1000 level.
But what was more concerning than the defeat was the resurfacing of Nadal’s chronic foot injury, identified as Müller-Weiss syndrome, just nine days before the French Open.
“I had my foot again with a lot of pain,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference. “I am a player living with an injury; it is nothing new. It’s something that is there. Unfortunately my day-by-day is difficult, honestly… it’s difficult for me to accept the situation sometimes. Today at half the second set, it starts and then it wasn’t playable for me… I don’t want to take away anything from Denis… Today is for him. Well done for him.”
The Mueller-Weiss syndrome is a rare and a degenerative disease that causes a deformity of one of the bones in the central part of the foot. In some cases, it can even lead to foot deformity. This condition basically affects the navicular bone of the foot which is referred to as the ‘keystone of the arch’. Apparently, Nadal has been living with the condition since 2005, the year he won his first-ever French Open title.
“I imagine there will come a time when my head will say ‘Enough,’” he added. “Pain takes away your happiness, not only in tennis but in life. And my problem is that many days I live with too much pain.”
Will Nadal be back for French Open?
Barely two months before he scripted an incredible comeback to lift the Australian Open – the 21st Grand Slam title of his career – Nadal had feared that he might have to retire from the sport owing to this foot injury. But showing astounding fighting spirit, Nadal did not just win his second title at the Melbourne Park, he scripted a dominating run to lift two more titles before being halted at the Indians Wells final.
The French Open will begin from May 22 where Nadal, who had lost to Novak Djokovic in the semi-final last year, will be aiming for his 14th title at the Roland Garros.
“What can happen in the next couple of days, I don’t know. What can happen in one week, I really don’t know now,” he said.
“It’s the time to accept the situation and fight. That’s it… I don’t know if rest, I don’t know if maybe practice. But I still have a goal in one week and a couple of days. I’m going to keep dreaming about that goal.
“First thing that I need to do is to don’t have pain to practise, that’s it… It’s true that during the French Open, Roland Garros, I’m going to have my doctor there with me. That sometimes helps because you can do things.
“In the positive days and in the negative days, you need to stay and to value all the things that happened to me in a positive way. Then days like today, just accept and try to keep going even if sometimes it’s not easy for me.”