Rafael Nadal – 2022 Season Review
Rafael Nadal enjoyed (and endured) an astounding yet emotionally and physically gruelling year in 2022.
Here, Tennishead looks back at the journey taken by the tennis legend over the course of one of the most memorable seasons of his distinguished career.
An incredible comeback
Rafael Nadal ramps up to the Australian Open
After Rafael Nadal ended his 2021 season in August with a foot injury, some feared it could be the end of the great champion’s career. But he returned to the tour on 6th January at the ATP 250 Melbourne Summer Set.
Beginning with a win over 104th ranked Ricardas Berankis, Nadal received a walkover from Tallon Griekspoor. A win over Finnish youngster Emil Ruusuvuori took him to the final. Facing serve-volleying big man Maxime Cressy, Nadal sealed an 89th tour level title 7-6 (8-6), 6-3. It was a first title on hard courts for Nadal for nearly two years.
A title of any kind was enough of a surprise on the Spaniard’s return. Few could have predicted what was to follow.
Return to Rod Laver Arena
Nadal entered the Australian Open a week later seeded sixth. Straight sets wins over Marcos Giron and Yannick Hanfmann continued his perfect start to the season.
Next up, an eighth career meeting with Karen Khachanov produced the same result as the previous seven. Nadal downed the Russian in four sets 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1. Another straightforward win over Adrian Mannarino brought up a 44th career Slam quarter-final appearance.
There he faced young gun Denis Shapovalov. After taking a comfortable two set lead over the Canadian the battle was drawn level before a deciding set. Nadal sealed it 6-3 as Shapovalov faded, a close call.
2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini waited in the semi-finals. their only previous meeting had also been in a Major semi-final, at the 2019 US Open. As then Nadal won, this time in four sets not three, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
That set a final with 2021 runner-up Daniil Medvedev. The newly crowned US Open champion was hoping to put a poor performance from Melbourne 2021 behind him to lift a second Major in a row.
It looked as though that would come to pass when he led two sets to love 6-2, 7-6 (7-5). That left Nadal with a mountain to climb. But climb it he did as the Spaniard recovered to win after more than five hours on court, 2-6, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.
In doing so he overtook Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic with 21 Slam titles and completed the Double Career Grand Slam after winning the Australian Open back in 2009.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 10-0
The Rafael Nadal Express is halted
Rafael Nadal backed up his Melbourne triumph with another title in Acapulco a month on. He won five matches without dropping a set, including over Medvedev 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 15-0
Nadal was in trouble in his first match back at Indian Wells. Facing Sebastian Korda, the American twice served for the match up 5-2 and 5-4 in the third set. But he choked and allowed Nadal to surge back and win to remain undefeated on the season.
Victories over Dan Evans and Reilly Opelka followed before a ninth career meeting with Nick Kyrgios in the quarters. A tough tussle saw Nadal win 7-6 (7-0), 5-7, 6-4. Young compatriot Carlos Alcaraz was next what turned out to be a mouth-watering contest.
Despite abdominal issues late on in the battle, Nadal survived 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in arguably the three-set match of the year to that point. The final brought California native Taylor Fritz as a challenger. And challenge Nadal he did as the noticeably injured Spaniard could not keep pace with the 24-year-old.
Fritz triumphed 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) to inflict a first defeat of 2022 on Nadal. He later revealed he had broken a rib in his semi-final with Alcaraz. That placed doubt in the minds of fans as to when they might see the 35-year-old back on the court.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 20-1
Uncertainty on the dirt for the ‘King of Clay’
An unprecedented under-performance
After a month and a half out, Nadal made his ATP comeback at the beginning of May at the Madrid Masters. Victory over Miomir Kecmanovic saw him face former world number seven David Goffin in what proved to be an epic encounter.
Nadal twice held match points in the second set, once on his serve, but failed to close it as Goffin extended the contest to a decider. That set then reached a tiebreak, one of the most exciting you are ever likely to see.
Nadal saved four match points to eventually win it 11-9 and escape in his nation’s capital.
Another meeting with Carlos Alcaraz came next. Now a Masters 1000 champion from Miami, the ninth ranked 19-year-old was ready to take on his idol. In another stunning contest it was the younger man who downed his compatriot at the third time of asking. After winning 6-2. 1-6, 6-3 he downed Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev to secure a second Masters crown.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 22-2
Nadal then entered Rome hoping to claim at least one clay title before the French Open. After a routine win over John Isner, Nadal faltered against Denis Shapovalov. Another injury had reared its head, this time a resurgence of his left foot ailment.
Unable to compete fully against the Canadian, Nadal lost 1-6, 7-5, 6-2. That left him entering the French Open without a clay title prior for just the second time since 2005. The previous occurrence came in the Covid-disrupted 2020 season when many clay events were cancelled.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 24-3
Never doubt Rafael Nadal
The legend had done the seemingly impossible by winning the Australian Open in January. Despite his superiority at the French Open, surely he was now in no fit state to win a 14th title there.
Despite still managing his foot injury, Nadal made it to the fourth round without dropping a set. He was then pushed hard by Felix Auger-Aliassime. The Canadian took him to five sets before Nadal outlasted him 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
A rematch of his epic 2021 semi-final with Novak Djokovic came next in the quarter-finals. As ever the rivalry did not disappoint as the duo play for four hour and 16 minutes into the early hours of the Parisian morning. Nadal ecstatically took out his 2021 conqueror 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4).
What began as an epic semi-final against Alexander Zverev ended unceremoniously. An abrasive encounter required more than three hours just to reach a second set tiebreak. But that is where the contest ended as the German suffered a horrific ankle injury, ending his run in Paris.
Nadal then faced Casper Ruud for the title, a man who had idolised the Spaniard since childhood. And the awe of the occasion seemed too much for the Norwegian. Nadal eased to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory, his 14th Roland Garros crown and record-extending 22nd Slam singles title.
The Spaniard revealed soon after the lengths her had to go to un order to compete with his injured foot. He had essentially played the tournament with what he described as a ‘zombie’ foot, completely numbing it with injected painkillers.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 31-3
A wild Wimbledon ride
Nadal rested through the grass events leading up to Wimbledon. He came through his first two matches in four sets each against Francisco Cerundolo and Ricardas Berankis. A straight sets win over Lorenzo Sonego ended late under the Centre Court roof, before another straight sets win over Botic van de Zandschulp took the Spaniard to an eighth career quarter-final at SW19.
There the two-time champion took on Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz once more. Though the American had beaten Nadal in California, this was a Slam quarter-finals, the great’s domain.
Nadal suffered what was later diagnosed as an abdominal tear, again hampering him as at Indian Wells. Despite his physical deterioration, most notably on serve, the 36-year-old managed to hold on to reach a third consecutive Wimbledon semi-final.
But the signs were dire for Nadal given his physical capacity. The very next day he called a special press conference as fans and the media feared a withdrawal.
Exactly that came as the Spaniard ended the dream of the Calendar Slam by withdrawing from the event. That handed Nick Kyrgios a walkover into his maiden Slam final.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 36-3
New York return and Rafael Nadal says farewell to a friend
An inauspicious return
After a further six weeks away from competition, Nadal returned at the Cincinnati Masters. There he faced Borna Coric, into the tournament with a protected ranking.
Despite his prolonged absence, it was still shocking to see Nadal fall in three sets to the world number 152. It was only his fourth his of the season. However, Coric went on to claim the Masters title, with Nadal the only man to claim a set off the Croatian. So, in hindsight it was not such a poor effort from the Spaniard.
A long-awaited comeback
Nadal then made his first appearance at the US Open since winning the event for a fourth time in 2019. Even in an uncertain physical condition and with just one match played in eight weeks, the 22-time Slam winner remained among the favourites for the title.
Four set wins over wildcard Rinky Hijikata and Fabio Fognini set up an easy match for Nadal. Nadal was 17-0 at tour level against fellow veteran Richard Gasquet. He extended that to 18 straight with a 6-0, 6-1, 7-5 stroll to victory.
The fourth round put forward a true challenge. Home favourite Frances Tiafoe was relishing his eighth home Slam appearance, matching his previous best run by reaching the last 16. He had not yet dropped a set before facing Nadal.
The prospect of taking on the legend on in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium fired the American up. He downed the Spaniard 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, becoming the first and only man to defeat Nadal at a Slam in 2022.
Rafael Nadal win-loss record to this point: 38-5
Farewell to friend and rival Roger Federer
Three weeks on and back in Europe, Nadal joined fellow ‘Big Four’ members Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for the fifth edition of the Laver Cup. Moreover, this was Federer’s final appearance as a professional tennis player after announcing his decision to retire.
In a dream match-up, Nadal and Federer took to the court together in the first doubles rubber of the event. The duo had their work cut out taking on Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. Still, an unranked Federer and out-of-practice Nadal put on a show for the London crowd.
A win eluded the duo in a match tiebreak, before emotion flooded from Federer immediately after the contest.
As the night continued on with tributes to the retiring legend, tears flowed from him and Nadal in particular. An incredible rivalry spanning over 15 years, Slam final tussles and 40 competitive battles had come to an end.
The business end
Nadal stayed away from competition as he and his wife Xisca awaited the birth of their first child, welcoming the baby boy on 8th October. Soon after his coach Carlos Moya announced that Nadal would return to action at the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals.
Hola a todos. Después de unos días y muchos mensajes de cariño sólo quería daros las gracias a todos!☺️
Estamos muy contentos y todos muy bien! Un fuerte abrazo ?
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) October 13, 2022
Problems in Paris
The Paris Masters is one of just a handful of big tournaments that Rafael Nadal has never won in his career. It remained that way in 2022 as he fell to American world number 31 Tommy Paul in his first match back, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.
The 36-year-old looked off the pace in the third set in particular, casting doubt on whether he would appear at the ATP Finals for an 11th time in his career.
A difficult end to an astonishing year
Nadal surprised some by even turning up in Turin for the year ending Nitto ATP Finals considering the other option of an elongated break and more time to spend with his newly born son, but ever the fighter and obviously nearing the end of his career, the Spaniard decided to play.
It was not the triumphant end to 2022 that his fans would have wanted to enjoy, with Rafa going down in straight sets to both Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime
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