Nadal: 'In That Moment, You Think In Five Minutes You'll Be In The Locker Room'
Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest battlers in all of sports. Every point, every game, every set, you know the Spaniard’s fighting spirit will remain intact, regardless of the deficit he faces. The lefty proved that again on Wednesday at the Nitto ATP Finals, saving a match point at 1-5 in the third set against Daniil Medvedev before pulling off a stunning rally to defeat the two-time ATP Masters 1000 champion in a final-set tie-break.
But however unthinkable the comeback was, Nadal admitted that he had thoughts that anybody else would have when facing such a dire situation against one of the world’s best players.
“In that moment, what you think is probably in five minutes you are [going to be] in the locker room, because that's the more normal thing,” Nadal said. “In that moment, you play with not much pressure because you are almost lost.”
Nadal held a double-break lead in the fifth set of the US Open final before Medvedev nearly pulled off a stunner, earning a break point to get back on serve in that thriller. So Nadal knew that even as he began his comeback, he was facing an opponent who would battle until the end.
“Daniil is super tough mentally. He showed everybody during all this year what he achieved. If you are not able to be very solid mentally, it’s impossible, honestly,” Nadal said. “Today is one of these days that one time of 1,000 you lose this match, and it happened today. Very happy for that. Very sorry for him, honestly, because losing a match like this is tough, and it's painful. I feel very sorry for Daniil. He's a good guy, I think, and anyway, he should be very proud about all the things that he's doing.”
Nadal, who began the set with a slew of unforced errors, calmly shook his head a few times in disappointment. But Nadal believes that fans watching from around the world should not look at the high of how he completed his comeback, but how he carried himself while on the brink of defeat.
“Examples are not for one day. Examples are every day. And in my opinion, the example is not the comeback, because the comeback… of course you need to be there and you need to keep fighting, but the example, in my opinion, is not breaking a racquet when you are 1-5 in the third or not be out of your self-control when the things are not going the right way,” Nadal said. “[It’s about] just staying positive, staying on court, accepting that the opponent is playing a little bit better than you and accepting that you are not that good. That's the only example. Because sometimes the frustration comes when you believe and you consider yourself too good and you don't accept the mistakes that you are doing.
“[It is something that has] not happened to me very often, and I know I can have mistakes and I normally accept it… That's the only example that I can try to tell the guys. Don't consider themselves too good. Accept the mistakes, because everybody has mistakes and you need to keep going after the mistakes. That's the only way.”
This was not just a big comeback in scale for Nadal, but an important one as well. Falling to 0-2 in round-robin play at these Nitto ATP Finals would have put the Spaniard’s hopes of advancing to the semi-finals in jeopardy, and also hurt him in the battle for year-end No. 1 with Novak Djokovic.
Nadal was broken just twice in 16 service games against the Russian. That is a good sign for the World No. 1, who withdrew ahead of his Rolex Paris Masters semi-final two weeks ago due to an abdominal injury. After two hours and 46 minutes of gut-wrenching action against Medvedev, Nadal said he was feeling "fine".
“Today the serve worked well again. I think that the beginning of the third I was two breaks down, but I didn't play that bad. Just couple of points there, and he played well and I made a couple of mistakes,” Nadal said. “That's it. No, no, the serve I'm happy with.”
Most of all, Nadal was pleased with how he improved his level after losing in straight sets against defending champion Alexander Zverev in his first match of the tournament. The way he pulled off the victory was just an added bonus.
“I have been better than the other day, of course. I have been playing a better level of tennis than the first day in general terms. Then winning this match is a combination of a lot of things: [being] lucky, some mistakes of Daniil, some good moments of myself at the end,” Nadal said. “Knowing that I was not able to practise the way that I would like before the tournament, be able to increase the level since two days ago to today like this is a very positive thing and I'm very happy with this. Winning or losing is another story.”