Nadal and Djokovic, hand in hand in Nole’s cave

Nadal and Djokovic, hand in hand in Nole’s cave

As Rafael Nadal gathers at the John Cain Arena, named after the union leader who presided over the state of Victoria for almost a decade in the 1980s, his wife tries to gain access to the stands to witness the tennis player practice with the Rest of the family, already housed. “No way, I’ll try it from above…” he says after stepping back three or four times in front of the lock of the metal door and running up the stairs. Eventually she succeeds, she takes a seat in one of the funds – dotted with the presence of her father, her mother, her sister, her agent, her communications manager and the representative of the sports company she sponsors – and observes the development of her husband, the Vor At the beginning of the test with Alexander, Zverev showed that he takes the preparation just as seriously as the matches.

A whole ritual for a quarter of an hour in the gym: seated on a machine used to strengthen the knees and quadriceps, the athlete stretches out his left arm and palm so that his physio Titín applies the oil with his brush, then the spray and then wrap the fingers with the protective tapes that prevent blisters from forming from excessive rubbing; first phalanx of the index finger, second phalanx of the heart, ring finger and little finger; with the other he unlocks his mobile phone and in the background the face of his son Rafael appears, who is accompanying him these days in Melbourne and is experiencing his first Grand Slam. Everything is ready. Well yes, Nadal, well packaged, is “ready” to take off at these Australian Open where he, defending champion and leader of the great historic race, faces the challenge of the man who returns with desire and sharp teeth, perhaps with more appetite than ever.

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“I don’t feel like a villain, that’s in the past,” Novak Djokovic replies to the journalist, who invites him to rewind to the arrest and expulsion from the country for his refusal to vaccinate. “If I held a grudge, I probably wouldn’t be able to go on and be here today. My view of Australia has always been very positive and my results are a testament to how I feel about Melbourne. I wanted to come back here and play what I do best in the end. I really wanted to return and I’m confident that I’ll be fun for people and bring good vibes,” explained the Serb, helped by his superiority in the tournament (nine titles), on concrete (66 of 92 trophies he has) and the good run in the pre-tournament pre-tournament, winning in Adelaide, building on the Spaniard’s wins (another 92) and throwing an ordeal before the start for being able to catch him on the racket’s historic peak.

“Of course I have this motivation,” he says openly. “I want to be the best, it’s no secret,” he continues. “I’m in very good shape. I ended the year in the best possible way [cuatro bingos de octubre aquí] and I continued the same in Adelaide. I look good, I always look good,” praises Nole, whose record reflects 82 wins and only eight losses in the major of the antipodes. Twice he played against Nadal, in the 2012 final – the longest in history, 5 hours 53 minutes – and in the 2019 final; both won. “It seems he came well prepared. Today he is the top favorite for the title. [el día 29]without a doubt,” notes the Spaniard, who qualifies: “What happens is that you have to work for two weeks and do it well, and in sport what seems impossible today sometimes ceases to be.”

Djokovic is signing autographs for fans at the Melbourne headquarters.Djokovic signing autographs for fans in central Melbourne LOREN ELLIOTT (Portal)

The man from Manacor nods as he scans. It’s looking good, he thinks the basis for attempting revalidation is ‘good’ and far from thinking of a hypothetical crossover with Belgrade in the final, he warns of next morning’s (4.30am Eurosport) clash with them British Jack Draper young left-hander (21 years old, 40th in the world) who has climbed more than 200 positions and clawed at wins against top-flight players in his first adventure in the elite.

“He has a great career ahead of him. That the first round is one of the worst I could touch? It’s a reality, but you have to live with what’s there,” he affirms. I lost more than usual [seis de los últimos siete partidos], but I accept it. If I can win on Monday I think I have my chances. I have to win a few games, but if I don’t, I keep working; I think I’m improving and I’m making progress every week, I’m playing well,” adds the Spaniard, who history presents with a double challenge: in the event of the third win in Melbourne (2009 and 2022) he would Serena Williams, who with 23 has resigned big in the locker room and surpass the American as a tennis player (male or female) with the greatest difference between her first success on a major stage (June 2005) and her last (June 2022); that is, 17 years and seven months, for the 17 and five of the Multi-Champion (1999-2017).

A bunch of strangers

He and Djokovic set the pace. Carlos Alcaraz, the only one who managed to steal them a piece of the pie in 2021, is out due to a last-minute injury, with the rest of the contenders appearing as unknowns. Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas resists the jump in a Major and has hit the semi-final barrier in Australia three times; Russia’s Daniil Medvedev was stuck in defeat by Nadal a year ago and despite having played in two major finals, Norway’s Casper Ruud needs another stretch to defeat the strongest on hard; The German Alexander Zverev has only played two games since breaking his ankle at Roland Garros and the proposals from Auger-Aliassime, Rublev, Fritz, Rune, Berrettini or Norrie are still a long way off.

The youth pushes hard, but at the moment of truth and Roger Federer is already on the ground, there is no more solid candidature than that of the two old rockers. Irreducible and hierarchical. “You are super good [los jóvenes] and they’re going to win Grand Slams, but I’m pretty sure the players of this generation aren’t going to make it to 20, 21, or 22. We’re 36 here and you have a very, very long career to wrap up and the injuries and things are there. I’m not talking about level, I’m talking about different things in life,” concludes Nadal, back in Australia, again faced with the challenge of defying his own circumstances; this time yes, Djokovic through. This is the most difficult thing so far.

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