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    Nadal wins without playing: “He broke the circle of pain”

    NEW YORK – Spain’s Rafael Nadal has already scored one big success before the US Open starts: he beat the pain. And that matters much more than his Tuesday night opener with 21-year-old, 198th-ranked Australian Rinky Hijikata.
    “He broke the circle of pain,” a man who knows in detail the fitness of the former world number one, a tennis legend who arrived in New York as the owner of two of the three Grand Slams contested so far, explained to CLAY.
    The circle of pain – what is that? To understand it you have to go back to a series of weeks between May and July this year, weeks in which Nadal baffled the world.
    First he spoke in Rome, and it seemed over, retirement from tennis sounded likely. Then he won Roland Garros and surprised everyone, because he explained that he did it with an anesthetized foot. And finally he played Wimbledon and reached the semifinals, a possibility that was bordering on the absurd if his words of a few days before were heeded.
    That’s how Nadal has been since 2005, when he burst into tennis with the force of a hurricane: surprising, zigzagging, contradictory, overwhelming, fighter, winner. And in 2022 he is still the same, even though he is 36 years old, he is on his way to becoming a father and the younger ones may call him “sir”.
    And although he says he is taking it step by step and that he lacks the rhythm of competition, if he is in New York it is to win the US Open for the fifth time, not for anything else.
    Four months ago, in Paris, a photo of Nadal landed on the cell phone of one of his best friends on the tour. More than a picture of Nadal, it was a picture of his foot. How could Rafael Nadal play (and win!) in such conditions?
    It was a photo of his left foot, that foot affected by the Müller-Weiss syndrome, which causes the bone to lose life. It is a necrosis of the bone, the bone dies.
    The striking thing is that the bone has been dying since October 2005, the striking thing is that Nadal became the most successful player in the history of tennis playing in those conditions: with a foot in bad condition and pains that often forced him to interrupt his training.
    In other words, the foot and its pains have been there for 17 years.
    “All his life, all his life. It’s not a novelty,” said Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and former coach, during an interview with CLAY at Roland Garros.
    But France is in the past, the 14th title is in the bag and Nadal is aiming for the 15th in 2023. Now it’s about being king again in New York, and having broken “the circle of pain” is great news for him.
    That treatment of two very special injections he underwent after the title in Paris worked. A new, risky, experimental treatment? No, says the man who knows him so well, just “the logical consequence of a year’s work, a step that had to be taken now”.
    When a treatment “stops working, you move on to the next option”. And that is what was done with Nadal, to whom the abdominal strain that prevented him from playing the Wimbledon semifinal no longer bothers him. Nor is his foot hurting him.
    It seems that the need for “a new foot” is no longer so urgent, a dream he confessed to Spanish journalist Javier de Diego in Paris.
    “And that’s a big difference compared to Roland Garros.”
    Draw your conclusions.
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    Clay’s managing editor has covered more than 60 Grand Slam tournaments since 1996. Author of “Sin Red”, a journey around the world following Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

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