US Open: In search of a Petit Slam, Rafael Nadal could achieve his greatest season

If it is necessary to designate a favorite at this US Open 2022, it is all found. All eyes turn almost automatically, like a reflex, to one man: Rafael Nadal. The only member of the Big 3 present in New York, as was already the case in Melbourne in January, the Majorcan naturally has the sign, as the three monsters have made the Majors their almost exclusive playground. But he has it above all because of his performance in 2022, since he has still not bowed regularly in the Grand Slam (19 victories and a withdrawal in the semi-finals of Wimbledon), already has 4 titles and 35 wins for 4 losses (i.e. 89.7% success rate).

His results are so impressive that the Spaniard gives the impression of stepping back in time, of being as dominating as in his finest hours. At 36, he is undeniably, at least from a statistical point of view, on the rhythm of his best seasons. In the event of another New York triumph, this 2022 vintage could even be the most significant. A short summary is needed to get started in the little game of comparisons, and this in chronological order:

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  • 2005: 11 titles including 1 Grand Slam (Roland-Garros) and 88.8% wins
  • 2008: 8 titles including 2 Grand Slam (Roland-Garros, Wimbledon), Olympic gold and 88.2% wins
  • 2010: 7 titles including 3 Grand Slam (Roland-Garros, Wimbledon, US Open) and 87.7% wins
  • 2013: 10 titles including 2 Grand Slam (Roland-Garros, US Open) and 91.5% wins
  • 2022 (in progress): 4 titles including 2 Grand Slam (Australian Open, Roland-Garros) and 89.7% wins

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The 2010 financial year, the ultimate benchmark to beat

The value placed on the four monuments of the calendar being what it is in modern tennis, the 2010 financial year, the only one in which Rafael Nadal achieved the Petit Slam – his rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic did so on three occasions each – nevertheless stands out from this list. The “Bull of Manacor” could therefore match this reference season, and this without losing the slightest match on the court in a Major, moreover (he had lost on abandonment because of his right knee in the quarter-finals of the Open of Australia 2010 against Andy Murray). What makes it its new apogee?

It’s hard to tell when you’re dealing with someone so good. And he played and won so many important tournaments in his careernuance our consultant Alex Corretja. I think we have to wait of course, but it could be one of the most surprising because he was starting so far before Melbourne. Then, at Roland-Garros, we didn’t know if he was going to play, and then here (in New York, Editor’s note), if he is able to win, it will have a major impact. This will require at least immense effort on his part anyway. We have to wait.” After ending his 2021 season prematurely, Nadal had considered for a time the possibility of not being able to play again at the highest level because of his left foot.

And the ex-Spanish champion to insist on the permanent miracle of this year 2022 for his compatriot. “It was probably one of the most difficult seasons of his career, as much because of the journey he had to make before even starting it as because he had to go through afterwards. After his final in Indian Wells and this physical alert (cracked rib, Editor’s note), he missed a few clay-court tournaments. Then he comes back and he has this foot problem. And he arrives at Roland-Garros and he wins all of a sudden. What Rafa is doing still impresses me. I’ve known him since he was a kid, and I still don’t understand how he can adapt so well to these situations. He is probably the best player or athlete I have met in the face of adversity.”

Nadal and Medvedev make their ranges in Flushing

At his age and with these injuries, what he does is incredible

The question here is not whether Nadal is stronger than ever: it seems risky to say the least to consider him as enduring and explosive as when he was 24, as he must now spare his mount. But the circumstances – absences of Djokovic and Federer – and his exceptional mental strength could allow him to achieve perhaps his greatest feat, especially at an age when few predicted that he would still be on the circuit. If he were to win the US Open, he would therefore regain a two-step lead in the race for the Grand Slams against his Serbian rival (23 against 21), the place of world number 1 and would almost equal his best percentage of matches. won over a season (it would be 42 wins for 4 losses, or 91.3%).

All this is obviously only conjecture, especially since the Majorcan does not approach this US Open in the best conditions, with only one preparation match, lost against Borna Coric in Cincinnati. “My abdominal tear (at Wimbledon, editor’s note) is a dangerous injury. When you serve, you apply a lot of pressure at the level of the scar. You have to find flexibility. The risk of it breaking is higher when this area is less flexible than before. I didn’t force it in training in Cincinnati. In match, I gave the maximum without putting everything at the service level. Here, I do the best I can. With my current tools, I hope to give myself a chance. I pay attention to the level of service, but otherwise I train at high intensity“, confided the interested party in front of the press before the tournament.

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Still, Nadal has proven this season, more than perhaps in any other, that no matter the circumstances, he is capable of anything. “He does things that no one has ever done before, which is to get up in the morning, and not know if he’s going to be able to play, or walk, or if he’s going to go home on the following day. So I really don’t understand how a player can do that. I admire him for that, even more than I admire him for having won 14 Roland-Garros. The fact that he still wants and is able to do what he does, at his age, with all these injuries, it’s amazing“, observes Mats Wilander, also amazed by the Majorcan.

On a purely statistical level, if he offered himself a new Petit Slam in two weeks, Nadal would not have officially achieved his greatest season since it would be “only” his 5th won tournament of the season (against 7 in 2010 ). Perhaps a first victory at the Masters next November would close the debate. But one thing is certain: if he were to win at Flushing, he would write a new page in his legend. And arguably the most beautiful.

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