From Djokovic to Swiatek to Alcaraz to Artificial Intelligence: the unexpected Nadal at Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic, Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz follow Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev in the first round of Roland Garros 2024 from the stands.
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PARIS – It’s Rafael Nadal’s voice, it’s him, unmistakable. And the video shows him speaking on centre court at Roland Garros, where the Spaniard has won 14 of his 14 finals.

What you hear is astonishing.

I own fucking Roland Garros.
I won here more than anyone ever.
I only came out to test the clay for the Olympics.
I am the king here and everyone knows.
Djokovic has won the French only three times.
He is a man child, he may have the most Grad Slam titles, but he has no class.
He is what I call Le Petit Poubelle.
I am the best tennis player ever.
The fans who saw me today will tell their grandchildren they saw a God play tennis.
I might be old, but I’m the best to do it. Thank you and goodbye.

The video shows Nadal, and it is the Nadal who was speaking on Monday after losing in the first round to Germany’s Alexander Zverev. But what he says, although his voice and gestures make some very unsuspecting people think it is real, is only a product of Artificial Intelligence, a work of @memerunnergpt Tik Tok and shared by a fan account of the Nadal (@Nadal_Fr) that amazed many on a rainy and cool Tuesday at Roland Garros.

The video shared by @Nadal_fr Twitter account in which Artificial Intelligence makes him say things he wouldn’t say

A delirium, because Nadal would never say that. And that’s precisely why the video generated attraction, because it shows an impossible Nadal.

Nadal Inteligencia Artificial
Artificial Intelligence created a video of Nadal talking about things he would never say.

And while on Monday Nadal’s fans appealed to artificial intelligence to make him say things he would never say, the ‘real’ Nadal spoke and said some astonishing things. Not to the extent of the fake video, but somewhat unusual.

It was when he was asked what it meant for him that his match against German Alexander Zverev was followed in the stands of the stadium by Novak Djokovic, Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz. The two current number one players and a former number one who is also Nadal’s successor in Spain.

‘I didn’t see them, but I think it’s normal in a way, isn’t it? I think if it’s the last time I’m going to play here and if I know Novak is the last time he plays at Wimbledon or in Australia and I was there…. I mean, these kind of young rivals or young players that are here like Carlos, that probably watch me on TV most of their years that they’re living, it’s normal that somehow they’re interested to see how this is going to be, and especially in this particular place with all the history that I had behind it, right? Happy for that to happen, you know, because that means that I have a positive legacy here and a positive legacy in my career, right?’

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Nadal said what he said and in a relaxed manner, but to talk about his place in history and to say that it is normal for his fellow tour mates to want to come and see him is as correct as it is unusual for a man who, after winning several consecutive Roland Garros like a steamroller, used to show extreme respect for his debut against a 19-year-old world No. 188, when everyone – including him – knew the match was a mere formality if it was played on the clay of Paris.

The Spaniard made a cult, over two decades of public exposure, of exhibiting humility and respect for his opponents. The essence of the sportsman, although today it is not so fashionable.

Nadal does not usually speak highly of himself. It is probably a licence he is allowing himself in the final stretch of his career. That’s why his analysis on Monday of the presence of Djokovic, Swiatek and Alcaraz drew mild attention: he was talking about a Nadal somewhat relieved of the burden of being flawless.

Alcaraz, confirming Nadal, sees it perfectly natural to attend his matches from the stands.

‘I said many times that I wanted to enjoy as much as possible Rafa’s matches in his tournaments. And the match against Zverev is a great match to watch as a tennis fan,’ said the reigning Wimbledon champion when asked on Sunday if he would watch Nadal live.

The presence of a top player watching another top player from the stands is unusual in tennis. In the great years of the ‘big three’ it was common to ask Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer if they would watch the match of one of them.

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The answer was usually ‘yes’, but on television and from the hotel room. Logically, they tended to be the star matches of the night session, unlikely to play a big match at four in the afternoon, as was the case with Nadal on Monday.

At the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, Djokovic answered CLAY a simple question: what did you see in Nadal’s match on Monday?

“I think he played very well comparing to what we saw from his performance in — where was it? — in Rome and where he played in Barcelona, I think he played really on a much higher level. Even though he lost in the straight sets, second and third were really close. He could have easily won one of those two sets, and maybe the match was going in a different direction.But he was a bit unlucky with the draw, because Zverev, he is in a great form, winning Rome, and he was serving extremely well. It’s tough to play Sascha when he’s feeling the ball so well.But it was great to watch. I don’t recall last time I actually watched a set of any match live on that level, other than Davis Cup, of course, matches. It was great. I saw, you know, Iga was there, Alcaraz was there, and we all wanted to get, I guess, a glimpse of the atmosphere, you know, of that possibly unique moment, you know, that could be his last.”

Do you think 2024 will be his last year playing?

‘It doesn’t look like it,’ replied the Serb, who knows and has suffered Nadal like few others.

“Nadal inspired me. On and off the court,” confessed Swiatek, who on Monday was taking pictures of her great idol with her mobile phone, just like any other fan.

The fake Nadal, the Artificial Intelligence Nadal, would say it’s only natural that he would do that, because there’s no one like him in Paris. The real Nadal, probably too.


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