Winner of his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2005, Rafael Nadal suffered a foot injury in the fall that could have put an end to his career. He missed the Australian Open in 2006 but came back and fought his way to a second Roland Garros title.
Extract from Nadal’s autobiography, Rafa:
Returning to Monte Carlo that year was like coming home. Once again I came up against Federer in the final, and once again I won. Then I faced him again in the final at Rome. It was a killer match, a true test of whether I recovered from my injury. I had. The match went to five sets, lasted five hours; I saved two match points, and I won. And then it was Roland Garros and a chance I thought I’d never have just four months earlier of preserving my French Open crown. It meant more to me to be back here now than it had to be here the year before, even though tgat had been my first time. Winning this would mean, for me and my family, that the nightmare we’d gone through would be, if not forgotten, exorcised, and we could resume, in a clear and confident state of mind, the victorious trajectory that had been so nearly terminally curtailed. And I had a point to prove: I wanted to show that my win in 2005 had not been a one-off, that I was in the Grand Slam league to stay.
I made it to the final by a tough route, beating some of the top players of the moment, among them Robin Soderling, Lleyton Hewitt and, in the quarterfinals, Novak Djokovic. A year younger than me, Djokovic was a hell of a player, temperamental but hugely talented. Toni and I had been talking about him and I’d been watching him in my rearview miror, looming closer, for a while now. He’d been racing up the rankings, and I had a strong feeling that he would be neck and neck with me before too long, that it would not just be me, but me and him, against Federer. Djokovic had a strong serve and was fast and wiry and strong – often dazzling – on both forehand and backhand. Above all, I could see he had big ambitions and a winner’s temperament. More a hard court than a clay court player, he was competitive enough to make it difficult for me in the Roland quarters. I won the first two sets 6-4 6-4, and was preparing for a long afternoon’s work when unfortunately for him, but fortunately for me, he had to pull out with an injury.
In the final it was Federer again. I lost the first set 6-1, but won the next three, the final one on a tiebreak. Wathing the video of the match later, I thought Federer played better than me overall, but in an atmosphere of high tension (he, so eager to complete the foursome of major titles; me, so desperate to banish the ghosts of my exile), I stuck it out.
As Carlos Moya saw it, Federer was not fully Federer when he played against me. Carlos said I had beaten him by attrition, badgering him into untypical mistakes for a man of such enormous natural talent. That had been the plan, but I also think I won because I’d won the year before and that gave me a confidence I might otherwise have lacked, especially against Federer. Whatever the case, I’d won my second Grand Slam.
After all I had been through, it was an incredibly emotional moment. I ran up in the stands, as I had done the year before, and this time it was my father I sought. We hugged hard and we were both crying. “Thank you, Daddy, for everything!” I said. He doesn’t like to show his feelings. He had felt the need to look strong and composed during my injury, but it was not until now that I fully grasped how hard he’d battled to stop himself from breaking down. Then I hugged my mother, who was also in tears. The thought that filled my mind at that moment of victory was that it as their support that had pulled me through. Winning the French Open in 2006 meant that we’d come through the worst; we’d overcome a challenge we feared might overwhelm us, and we had come out the stronger for it. For my father, I know, that was the moment of greatest joy of my entire career.
2003 and 2004: injuries
In 2003, I was high enough in the rankings (No. 87) for direct acceptance into the main draw but I hurt my elbow, so I had to withdraw.
In 2004, I had a bad left foot injury and I was off from April until July. This time though I came to Paris as I was invited by one of my sponsors. It was the first time that I’d been at Roland Garros. I was on crutches, but it didn’t stop me from going all the way to the top of the stands at Philippe Chatrier Court. I sat on one of the seats to the right of the court to drink in the atmosphere. It’s a fond memory for me. I was disappointed not to be able to play but deep down, I knew that sooner or later I would be able to take part in the tournament.
Tennis on clay:
Tennis on clay is the most complete expression of the sport as far as I’m concerned. The rallies are longer since the surface is slower, so you have to construct every point and implement a strategy to try to grind down your opponent. You need to be more patient, know how to defend and find a way to take control of points. And if you like this surface and feel at home on it, Roland Garros is obviously the temple of clay. It’s a unique point in the season.
2005, first Roland Garros trophy:
I’d won a lot of titles on clay – in Brazil, Acapulco, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, so I had a lot of confidence. I knew that I had the game and the strength to go deep. During the tournament, I just took one match at a time, but I knew that if I played my best, I could achieve something.
When I see myself in 2005, I see a player with an incredible energy and enormous powers of concentration. I was on such a good form. I played with real intensity and passion. I was young and I had a carefree attitude you would expect of a 19-year-old. In the final against Mariano Puerta, I knew that it would be a difficult match and that’s what it was. But I knew that anything was possible. This win will always be a key moment in my career. In the space of two months, I went from No. 50 in the world to winning Roland Garros. I handled it well in my head, because after this win, I stayed the same, I carried on working hard to keep on the right path as best I could.
It’s true that after that first win, I thought “That’s it, my dream has come true, so now the rest of my career, I will be calmer.” But I’d got it all wrong. Because each season, it was the same thing – you’re nervous, you want to win because you want to get back that indescribable feeling of emerging victorious at a Grand Slam tournament. So this feeling of calm that I thought I had got with that win turned out to be very temporary because a few months later, the tension and the desire to give it my all came back – stronger than before.
Not only the King of clay:
Winning at Roland Garros gives you the strength and the confidence to win elsewhere. Because when you start winning, you get into a virtuous circle: winning boosts your confidence, it makes you calmer, you gain more experience and it gives you a healthy dose of positive energy. Roland Garros is therefore a unique tournament in my career because it also enabled me to win on hard courts, on grass and everywhere else. In 2005, a lot of people thought that I could only play on clay, but after I won the French Open, I went on to win the Masters 1000 in Montreal and the tournament in Madrid (then played on hard courts), so I was good enough to win on other surfaces.
2008, 2012, 2014:
Lots of things have happened to me at Roland Garros. 2008 for example was the year that I was further ahead the pack than ever before. I didn’t drop a set and think that this is the tournament where I played my best tennis.
In 2014 against Novak Djokovic, it was the toughest final physically. I’d never felt that tired – at the end of the first set as well. It was very hot, humid and muggy even though it had been quite cool throughout the fortnight. My body struggled with it. I also had some fitness problems during this tournament.
In 2012, I had cortisone injections to play because my knee was hurting. Thee was another year, I forget which one, when I also needed injections, this time on my foot. But injuries and fitness issues are part and parcel of being a tennis professional. With hindsight, I can see that the injuries led to me missing some important moments and tournaments but at the same time, they allowed me to put into perspective everything that I’ve achieved.
That defeat in 2009 was a hard one to swallow, I won’t deny that, but at the same time it wasn’t a tragedy. You mustn’t blow it out of proportion. I’d won the tournament in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. And I told myself that I wasn’t going to win Roland Garros every year and that’s normal, I can actually lose, I know that, so I went home and decided to prepare as best I could to try to win it again.
It was a very special victory. Even if I didn’t drop a set this year, it wasn’t as easy as in 2008. I was coming from a long way back. 2009 was a very tough year, both personally and physically. I hurt my knee before Roland Garros then after that it was my stomach muscles during the American swing. I went through some bad times. And after all that, I came back and won Roland Garros again. I was very, very emotional, and this win was the starting point of an exceptional period because I went on to win Wimbledon and the US Open. And once again it all started at Roland Garros.
Source: Roland Garros Magazine