As Rafael Nadal lifted his 14th Coupe des Mousquetaires, there wasn’t as much applause as you would expect, because there was an air of suspense. The crowd at Court Philippe-Chatrier after all, was waiting for the speech. In the earlier rounds of the French Open, the 36-year-old dropped hints regarding his future at Roland Garros due to the recurring foot problem that had plagued him throughout his campaign in Paris this year.
Former Grand Slam champion and now broadcaster Marion Bartoli pleaded for him to return next year during a post-match interview. Casper Ruud, the vanquished finalist, asked him to continue playing during his runner-up speech.
Finally when Nadal took the microphone, came the tense moment his fans had been waiting for. And just as he has time and again at the French Open, the Spaniard didn’t disappoint.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I’m going to keep fighting,” he said.
He was all smiles later on in the press conference, as he basked in the glory of his 22nd Grand Slam title – extending the all-time record for most Majors won in men’s singles. And 14 of those titles came at the French Open alone – easily his most favourite Slam.
“For me having this trophy next to me again means everything,” he said. “(It) has been (an) emotional victory, without a doubt. Unexpected in some ways. Very happy.
“(It) has been a great two weeks. I played from the beginning, improving every day. Finishing playing a good final. (I am) super happy and can’t thank everybody enough for the support since the first day that I arrived here. Very emotional.”
He had a bright start to the tournament, but his matches got tricky from fourth round as he was stretched to five sets by Felix Auger-Aliassime, had to get the better of World No 1 Novak Djokovic in an epic quarterfinal, and got past an inspired Alexander Zverev when the German took a nasty tumble and was forced to retire from the semi-finals.
In the final though it was smooth sailing as he cruised past Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.
He didn’t show any sign of trouble with his foot while on court, but asserted that there was still some cause for worry.
“I didn’t want to talk about the foot during the tournament. I said I’m going to speak after the tournament, and now I can speak because I wanted to focus on my tennis and respect my rivals… I was able to play during these two weeks with extreme conditions. I have been playing with injections on the nerves to sleep the foot (sic), and that’s why I was able to play during these two weeks,” he said.
“Because I have no feelings on my foot, because my doctor was able to put anaesthetic injections on the nerves. That takes out the feeling on my foot. But at the same time, it’s a big risk in terms of less feelings, a little bit bigger risk of turning your ankle… of course, Roland Garros is Roland Garros. Everybody knows how much it means to me this tournament, so I wanted to keep trying and to give myself a chance here.
“I don’t know how to say in English exactly the treatment, but (I am) going to have a radio frequency injection on the nerve and try to burn a little bit the nerve and create the impact that I have now on the nerve for a long period of time. That’s what we are going to try. If that works, going to keep going. If that doesn’t work, then it’s going to be another story.”
At 36, he became the oldest man to win the French Open, beating 34-year-old Andres Gimeno’s record from 1972. But he’s still driven to go further.
“It’s not about being the best in history. It’s not about the records. It’s about what I do. I like to play tennis. And I like the competition,” he added.
“As I said a couple of times in the past, and is not a thing that I repeat, is not the thing that I don’t feel for me, we achieved our dreams. Me, Roger, Novak, we achieved things that probably we never expected.
“For me, what drives me to keep going is not about the competition to try to be the best or to win more Grand Slams than the others. What drives me to keep going is the passion for the game, live moments that stay inside me forever, and play in front of the best crowds in the world and the best stadiums.”
For now, as he mentioned during his victory speech, those grand tennis venues all over the world can continue to count on his presence, even if there is still an air of uncertainty. Nadal’s hurting, but he’s going to keep trying to give moments like those on Sunday to his fans. Keep fighting, like he does.
Watch his press conference clips below where he also spoke about Ruud’s development, his own Wimbledon plans and more: